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'They were a shower of lunatics but they lived with their hurleys' - a Harty Cup return in Munster

Limerick’s Seamus Hickey and Clare’s Colin Ryan on the Dr Harty Cup ahead of Saturday’s final.

Seamus Hickey and Colin Ryan have fond memories of their time with St Flannan's.
Seamus Hickey and Colin Ryan have fond memories of their time with St Flannan's.
Image: INPHO

IN THE SPRING of 2006 Seamus Hickey found himself performing a hurling juggling act.

He was in the home straight studying at St Flannan’s in Ennis, his last shot playing in the Dr Harty Cup in Munster.

Recruitment to the top level of hurling had also arrived, the Limerick senior camp drafting him in on the back of the impressive reputation he had developed with the county minor side the previous summer.

It made for a frenzied schedule and yet there are no regrets when reflecting on such a hectic time.

“It was magic really. In ’06 a number of us were brought in off the Limerick minor team in ’05 that had got to the All-Ireland final. A couple got experience to see what senior hurling was like.

“I was lucky enough, I just went for it and managed to stick for the early stages of the league. I thought I’d maybe get the Waterford Crystal as it was at the time and bow out gracefully afterwards. But I was kept on and it was a bit of a novelty then in school the fact I’d to try to balance Limerick senior training with the training I was doing for the Harty. It was an interesting time alright but I was living the dream really.”

There were plenty final appearances but the results did not fall his way. In the space of seven weeks he contested a National League final with Limerick, an All-Ireland hurling decider with St Flannan’s and before that a couple of attempts at claiming Munster schools silverware. Four opportunities but no medals to show for his efforts.

“I remember that Midleton team in the Harty final, they’d lost a staff member during the year and it was very emotional for them. They were highly motivated and played very well the same day in Cashel in the final. It was a game I felt we should have won, we under-performed. The talent we had around the field, like John Conlon was a sub on that team, he was only a fourth year at the time.

“We lost the Corn Uí Mhuirí football final within a week of it, it was a tough week. Then we picked ourselves up, played Gort in the All-Ireland quarter and then beat a very good Kilkenny CBS team in the semi. Got to the final against Dublin Colleges but lost that.”

That brought Hickey’s time in St Flannan’s to a close. The Ennis hurling powerhouse contested the Dr Harty Cup final twelve months later but have been marked absent since. On Saturday lunchtime they end a 13-year wait to participate in a decider as the 2020 prize is up for grabs.

It’s been a striking barren spell. St Flannan’s are the market leaders with 21 titles at the premier schools grade of Munster hurling. They’ve featured in another 18 finals. Outside of the province they have lifted 14 All-Ireland Croke Cup crowns.

Yet they have not been reached the Dr Harty Cup summit since 2005, a team that had Hickey as the defensive lynchpin and Colin Ryan as the prolific free-taker before he progressed to fill that role with Clare sides.

saint-flannans-college Colin Ryan (back left) and Seamus Hickey (front left) before the 2005 Croke Cup final. Source: INPHO

“I’d always be ball-hopping Bugs (Brendan Bugler, St Flannan’s coach) about it since he went in there and the amount of work he’s doing,” says Ryan.

“It’s amazing, 15 years is a long time in Flannan’s. People think it coincided with the end of the boarding (in 2005) but when I think back to that team we only had two players from outside the county. Now they were two good players – Seamus and George Hannigan, the Tipperary footballer. Maybe it’s just an indictment of Clare hurling and underage hurling for a while that it wasn’t that successful.”

For Hickey there was a strong family background influencing his decision to go from home in Murroe to enrol at St Flannan’s.

“All my uncles and my father Sean would have been in Flannan’s. At that stage it was very much the draw, the education that my grandfather would have sent them. My uncle, Fr Mícheál Hickey, is a priest in Bansha. He would have come through Flannan’s so there would have been that heavy influence on it but I was 100% looking forward to going there because of the hurling when my turn came around.

“The main entrance into the school from the boarding school was lined with all the photos of the winning teams back through the years. You’d the likes of Davy Fitzgerald and Jamesie O’Connor and their successful Harty teams, Anthony Daly’s picture is up on the wall. So we’d all those when we walked in.

“Flannan’s had been to the Harty final the year I started, Niall Moran from Limerick was just gone when I arrived. My own brother Ronan in ’98 was on the All-Ireland winning team that would have been captained by Dermot Gleeson from Ballinahinch. I would have been very aware of the tradition and the success of the hurling team when I was going in there.”

Ryan is clear in what nudged him to head to Ennis for secondary school.

“Hurling was completely the thinking. I was the only one from my class in Newmarket-on-Fergus that went to Flannan’s. Everybody else went to Shannon. When I had the discussion with Mam and Dad, and sure I was completely hurling mad, there was no issue. James McInerney from Newmarket would have went at the same time but he would have went from a different primary school.”

He would go on to establish himself in Banner hurling circles, the shining moment arriving in that breathless replay in September 2013 but the hurling roots and relationships that took hold in St Flannan’s are classed highly by Ryan.

“There were eight first year classes in Flannan’s and I think there were 10 hurlers in our class. It kind of set the tone, hurling was a big part of school life for us all the way through. It was mighty times altogether. You’d have had a big contingent from Tipperary when I was starting. They were mighty craic, the life and soul of the party.

“They were a shower of lunatics but they lived with their hurleys too and every evening there was someone to go out training with. Like we would have trained four evenings a week and gone home after to train with our clubs. There was no issue of burnout or anything like that. There was no big running regimes, it was hurling non stop.”

The pair both celebrated a pair of Harty Cup wins before Hickey’s three-in-a-row ambitions were thwarted in 2006. The second-level highlight arrived though on May Bank Holiday in 2005.

seamus-hickey-and-george-hannigan-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Seamus Hickey and George Hannigan celebrate after the 2005 Croke Cup final.

They had appreciated they were part of a collection of hurling talents as they swept the boards during their teenage years before landing All-Ireland senior success against St Kieran’s.

Future Cats greats like TJ Reid and Richie Hogan were amongst their opponents. Team-mates included Patrick Kelly who would stand in goal for Clare’s 2013 Liam MacCarthy Cup win and Ciaran O’Doherty who captained a major U21 breakthrough for the county in 2009.

Semple Stadium was the setting. Clare against Kilkenny in a league final the main course on that hurling menu. To triumph in the starter before a bumper crowd made for a perfect day.

“Flannan’s games down through the years, it was the same parents you were seeing on the sidelines,” says Ryan.

“All else you had was the students who didn’t care who won, they were chanting throughout and had got to leave school to be out for the day.

“It was a very different scenario having a real big hurling crowd and a real big Clare contingent. Having the success then that day just topped it all off.”

They were aided by the illustrious name coaching them.

“Jamesie was super, his insight and the respect he commanded was brilliant,” recalls Hickey.

“I loved the way he approached the game. He was nearly a bit ahead of his time then, he was highly focused on our aerial ability. It was something that Limerick and Clare weren’t particularly well known for and he’d talk about how strong the Kilkenny lads were there. I really loved his coaching, it was very refreshing and focused and targeted to a playing style.”

gerard-arthur-lifts-the-cup St Flannan's captain James McInerney lifts the Croke Cup in 2005.

Ryan points out how that coaching tradition has been maintained amongst teachers. He sees former team-mate Bugler part of the current coaching crew while Tony Kelly and Jack Browne look after the Flannan’s Dean Ryan Cup side.

They may have been missing from the roll of honour of late but in the interim Clare players have been thriving with Limerick’s Ardscoil Rís.

“It’s Brendan’s pet gripe I think, Clare lads not going to Flannan’s,” says Ryan.

“The way I look at it, it can only be a good thing for Clare hurling if lads are seeing the level of hurling, if that’s in Ardscoil or wherever. Logistics plays a part now, if you’re in East Clare and people are working inside in Limerick, it might be easier to go to school there.

“It’s probably a sign as well where the success is in underage hurling in Clare now. Kilmaley, Clarecastle, Barefield, Corofin-Ruan, these clubs are starting to be successful and Flannan’s would be their main school.”

The colleges hurling landscape has undergone a seismic shift with the class of 2020 facing CBC Cork, long regarded as a rugby heavyweight, in the final.

Hickey will head to Mallow on Saturday with his father Sean, who will be armed with information having attended the quarter-final victory over Tulla and the semi-final win against Templemore.

Ryan is hoping the weather will be favourable to bring his young son along for a first taste of a Harty Cup showpiece.

They’ll be bound for North Cork and happy by the final whistle if the barren spell has drawn to a close with a rich hurling tradition awakened.

“I absolutely loved Flannan’s and still do, still watch out closely to how they’re doing,” says Hickey.

“You still have that affinity of having been through the place. To be part of that tradition was huge for me. To have a Harty medal was probably one of my main ambitions soon as I went into the school, to try and emulate some of the heroes that had gone through it, and my own brother of course. It was very special and I was very lucky to be part of such a good group.”

Bernard Jackman joins Garry Doyle and Gavan Casey for a big chat about Men’s, Women’s and U20s Six Nations, while Andrew Conway gives an update on his uncertain future


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Fintan O'Toole

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