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Dublin: 4 °C Saturday 18 January, 2020

'It’s something I’ll remember forever' - The captain of the last Cork school to lift the Dr Harty Cup

Paudie O’Sullivan hopes to see Midleton CBS celebrating another title this Saturday.

WHEN PAUDIE O’SULLIVAN hoisted the Dr Harty Cup into the Cashel air in March 2006, the thought of a barren spell ensuing for Cork outfits didn’t cross his mind.

Paudie O’Sullivan Paudie O'Sullivan captained Midleton CBS to their last Dr Harty Cup win in 2006. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He didn’t consider that, 12 years on, he would be the last winning captain from a Cork school.

Or that when he points the car towards Mallow on Saturday afternoon for the 2018 instalment, he will witness his alma mater’s first appearance since then on the prized day in the Munster schools hurling calendar as the East Cork outfit take on Ardscoil Rís.

A fifth year student at the time, O’Sullivan’s focus was on Midleton CBS becoming a mainstay on that stage rather shifting into the wilderness.

“We’d such a strong team the year after as we only lost two or three of the team. If you’d told me then it’d be 12 years even getting to a final, I’d have found it hard to believe.

“The standard of it has gone through the roof as well. The Waterford colleges have come in, obviously the Limerick schools like Ardscoil Rís, new Cork schools like Rochestown and CBC.”

Dungarvan Colleges players celebrate with the cup Dungarvan Colleges players celebrating their 2013 Dr Harty Cup final victory. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The memories come rushing back this week of that 2006 success. Growing up in Cloyne he watched his older brothers Diarmuid, Domhnall, Colm and Eoin all pass through the classrooms of Midleton CBS where hurling was an integral part of their education process.

Midleton CBS reached five Harty Cup finals over the course of 10 seasons from 1986, winning two and losing three, with Diarmuid on the triumphant 1995 team that cruised past Lismore CBS by 13 points in the final.

“It was something in my house that I was always brought up on,” says Paudie.

“Going back as far as primary school when the four lads were playing, I’d always get the half day off to go and see whichever one of them was playing in the Harty.

“Then when I got to secondary school, you always got a half day off to see the Harty games. It was a massive thing.

“It was even nearly on a level above Cork minor at the time, it was just the history and mystique about it. I think it kind of lost that for a couple of years but it’s coming back in now again. The only reason I went to Midleton CBS probably was to play in the Harty Cup.”

O’Sullivan’s hurling potential was clear as a youngster. He would start out playing minor for Cork in 2005, progressing on seamlessly to the U21 and senior ranks. A couple of weeks before his 16th birthday, he played in the first of three successive county senior finals with Cloyne.

Cloyne Paudie O'Sullivan (third front right) before Cloyne's 2005 Cork county senior final. Source: INPHO

He was a junior cert student when he made his Harty Cup bow but it was at the third attempt he scaled the summit. A couple of hurdles against high-quality Tipperary opposition were cleared in the early months of 2006.

“We beat Templemore in the quarter-final in Kildorrery. They’d Noel McGrath who was about 15 or 16 at centre-back. At the time we didn’t really know him then but after that obviously he really became known.

“Then we’d Thurles CBS in the semi-final who had an absolutely packed team. Padraic Maher, Michael Cahill and James Barry all won the All-Ireland with Tipp.

“Pa Bourke at the time was full-forward for them, he was on a level with Joe Canning as probably the best minor in the country. He went on and won the All-Ireland minor with Tipp that year as well.”

Patrick Bourke Pa Bourke was part of the Tipperary minor team that defeated Galway in 2006. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Midleton stole victory at the death of that game, Luke O’Farrell completing a hat-trick of goals to seal a 3-8 to 0-16 victory. Yet there was a twist to his inclusion at corner-forward

“Luke wasn’t supposed to start but one of our corner-backs was sick the morning of the match and we ended up making five or six different changes to accommodate Luke. He went in full-forward on Padraic Maher and he ended up coming out with a hat-trick.

“He was only just 16. Small things like that turn a year. Thurles had lost the final the year before and to be perfectly honest I think we robbed them in the semi-final.

“We knew after we got over that we’d a massive chance that we might never get again.”

During that Midleton spring hurling journey, they were hit with a jolt by the sudden loss of a crucial influence on their players.

“We lost a teacher of ours who was instrumental, Donal Power, an Irish and Maths teacher in the school,” recalls O’Sullivan.

“He died suddenly about a week or two before the quarter-final. He’d been involved with the squad for the whole year.

“I definitely thought in one or two of those games, particularly the Thurles one, it was almost meant to be in his honour.

“Definitely it pushed fellas on to try to do something special for him.”

Midleton’s task in that final was to upset St Flannan’s. The Ennis hurling heavyweights had six of the team that won the All-Ireland Croke Cup against St Kieran’s the previous March. They were chasing a third successive Munster crown.

Clare’s Jamesie O’Connor was supervising them from the sideline. Seamus Hickey was at the heart of their defence and would come on as a sub the following month in Thurles for the Limerick seniors in the closing stretch of a league final against Kilkenny.

Seamus Hickey and Niall Gilligan Seamus Hickey in action for the Limerick senior side in 2006. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“Whenever I’d meet a few of the lads we’d talk about it and I think it’s still probably one of the best days I’ve had in my career,” recalls O’Sullivan.

“The whole week leading up to it, Flannan’s were seen as kind of a Goliath-type school.  They’d inter-county players all over the place. Rob White from Carrigtwohill went on Seamus Hickey and in the second half he caught fire and got five or six points.

“Everything we hit in the second half went over but the last five minutes was just clinging on for dear life. When the final whistle went, it was just amazing.

“You’re in school with fellas you see every single day of the week for six years. You just have a relationship with them that at times is closer than club level because the amount you see them. It’s something I’ll remember forever.”

O’Sullivan would forge a Cork career sniping close to goal as an attacking threat but in his school days he was a cornerstone at the back.

“Bar then and with the Cork minors, it’s the only time I’ve ever played as a back. It started U14 in the Rice Cup. A teacher there, Eamonn O’Neill, said they were stuck for a centre-back and was wondering was there any takers. They were badly stuck.

“Being in first year, I was keen to impress the hurling teachers. I said I’d go centre-back, no bother. I didn’t do too bad there and it took off from there.

“I don’t think I ever actually started a game for the CBS in the forward line but then I’ve never started a game for the club in the back line. It was a funny one.”

Paudie O'Sullivan and Mark McMahon Paudie O'Sullivan in action for the Cork minor hurlers against Galway in 2006. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

He hoped it would be the springboard to bigger and better things with the school but that day in Leahy Park proved to be the summit.

Midleton went on to lose to a Dublin Colleges team that featured Diarmuid Connolly, Simon Lambert and Paul Ryan in their ranks in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Ross Horan and Dermot Connolly Diarmuid Connolly in action for Dublin Colleges in the 2006 Croke Cup final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

O’Sullivan readied himself for one final assault at the Harty Cup the following season but their hopes of retaining the title were scuppered before Christmas.

“We were very unfortunate. We were in a group of four and with two other teams, we all beat each other. We were just knocked out by scoring difference by Templemore, they’d Noel McGrath again, and Waterford Colleges.

“We beat Templemore and they went on to beat Waterford Colleges, who we lost to. You know it’s still a thing that kind of upsets me to this day. It was definitely something we let go.

“De La Salle from Waterford went on to win it and we played them in a challenge game a week before that Templemore game and beat them by 10 or 15 points. To see them going on to win it after was sickening.”

The drought kicked in then for Midleton CBS but other Cork schools were not immune either. As the county has struggled in the underage ranks of late, the Dr Harty Cup record has been held up as a glaring example of where they are going wrong.

Charleville CBS (2011), Rochestown College (2015) and St Colman’s (2017) have tripped up at the final hurdle. The present bunch of Midleton CBS players are next up to try to end the losing steak. They face a team aiming to bring back the silverware for the fifth time since 2010 to the North Circular Road in Limerick city.

Kevin O'Brien and Timmy Rae Charleville CBS lost out to Ardscoil Rís in the 2011 Dr Harty Cup final. Source: Cathal Noonan

Midleton’s current prospects are boosted by the presence of four players – Sean O’Leary Hayes, Aaron Walsh-Barry, Ger Millerick and Liam O’Shea – who featured for Cork in the All-Ireland minor final last September.

O’Sullivan soldiered alongside Millerick and O’Shea last year for the Imokilly divisional team. They celebrated a county final victory together last October. Some other members of the Midleton CBS 2006 vintage also shared in the occasion with Brian Lawton at wing-forward and Ciaran Cronin a selector.

Paudie o’Sullivan and Fergal Condon celebrates after the game Paudie O'Sullivan and Fergal Condon celebrating Imokilly's county final win last October. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I’d be very good friends with Brian to this day. I knew him since first year. Ciaran would have been the goalkeeper on that Harty team. We were all in the same class.

“It’s funny the three of us ended up winning a county like that together. It’s not something we would have thought possible.

“We weren’t shy in reminding Ger and Liam every chance that we got that they hadn’t won a Harty yet and we had!”

He’s cleared his plans for Saturday and with a clutch of East Cork clubs having representatives on the team, O’Sullivan has sensed a growing anticipation in the area ahead of the game.

“Once you go to the CBS, you’re always inclined to go back and support them. Everyone who’s gone there always has the same kind of affinity for it.

“All the main clubs around East Cork are contributing. The clubs were always happy to see their players playing Harty. There was never any issues in releasing players, it was always in good spirit

“A couple of times I played a Harty game a week before a county final with Cloyne and it was never an issue. It’s good to see that continuing. Last Friday I was in the school just to meet some of the players and former teachers.

“Walking through the school it was great to bring back memories like that. It’d be great now if they could finally win it again on Saturday.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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