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'We are used to winning, and winning with style, and class, and a whole load of other things'

St Jarlath’s past pupil and Off The Ball producer Ciaran Murphy will be present at Croke Park on Saturday as the Tuam outfit aim to collect their 13th Hogan Cup title. Here’s what it means.

The last time Jarlath’s took home the trophy in 2002, Michael Meehan was a key figure.
The last time Jarlath’s took home the trophy in 2002, Michael Meehan was a key figure.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

WHEN IT COMES to supporting sports teams, some of us are born lucky.

Like those beknighted souls from Kilkenny who enjoy a bit of hurling from time to time, for instance (about 99% of that county’s population, with a 1% margin of error).

There are others who are singularly unlucky, of course; and then there are those of us for whom supporting a team is like an Ingmar Bergman film festival – moments of light (Wild Strawberries, Fanny and Alexander) in a never-ending cascade of darker moments (every other Bergman movie).

I’m a Galway man, from the north of the county, so football has always been my game.  And while 1998 and 2001 are like those photographs of you where you actually look happy (everyone has at least one or two) that I take out of my shoebox of beautiful memories from time to time, it’s not exactly a 24/7 laugh riot – this year’s league campaign being a case in point.

But I also have the blind luck to have been a past pupil of St Jarlath’s College in Tuam, which for reasons not quite fathomable to the easily depressed Galway football fan, has been a hot-house for brilliant football teams since the foundation of the state.  And so when it comes to the National Colleges Senior A championship, we are used to winning, and winning with style, and class, and a whole load of other things that we would more readily associate with things that happen to other people.

In the past, the success of Jarlath’s has not been solely Galway’s to celebrate of course.  Throughout the history of the Hogan Cup, Jarlaths’ 12 All-Ireland successes have either been backboned or supplemented by boarding students, most commonly from Mayo and Donegal, but also from counties all along the western sea-board and even farther afield.

The boarding school element was always played up by our provincial rivals – St Colman’s of Claremorris were never our biggest fans for instance, and our local rivals Tuam CBS (later to be called St Patrick’s College) always had an attitude not dissimilar to Manchester City’s relationship with Man United, with roughly the same level of connection to reality.

But Jarlath’s is no longer a boarding school, and in fact has amalgamated with Tuam CBS/St Pat’s, so their success in reaching this year’s Hogan Cup final is most definitely a success for all Galway football fans to revel in during this rather sticky spring period for the big-ball supporters in the county.

It’s swings and roundabouts – Jarlath’s are denied the influx of county minors of the future from outside the county, but are given pretty much unfettered access to the best young players in north-east Galway, and they plough on regardless.

This year they face the reigning champions St Colman’s of Newry in Croke Park on Saturday at 1.30pm.  By all accounts, Jarlaths’ victory in the semi-final over Coláiste Chríost Rí of Cork was a magnificent game of football, so Jarlath’s are rather on the crest of a wave.

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Newry looked like champions-in-waiting after their comprehensive semi-final victory over Dundalk Schools, but Ard Scoil Rís’ bitterly disappointing defeat to St Kieran’s of Kilkenny in the hurling final last week taught us that earlier brilliant performances at this level don’t count for an awful lot come All-Ireland final day.

St Colman’s have their own proud tradition to uphold too of course; they’ve won the Hogan Cup 7 times, Jarlaths’ nearest rival on the Roll of Honour, and by all accounts the man for Jarlath’s to watch this year is Caolan Mooney, who is joining Collingwood in the AFL after he has completed his exams this summer.

I’ll be along on Saturday, sitting proudly atop a bandwagon which I can reasonably call my own (my first Jarlath’s memory was watching Roscommon’s Derek Duggan play like Zeus in two brilliant games in the Hogan Cup final and replay of 21 years ago – so there) but the reasons for attending go a little deeper than that.

It’s not the Leinster Senior Cup for slightly less well-off people; it’s a national tournament in the country’s biggest sport that doesn’t get a 10th of the coverage, presumably because it doesn’t quite have the ABC1 penetration.

TG4 as ever have stepped into the breach and started showing the All-Ireland colleges finals in recent years and it has quickly become clear, to those who were unaware previously, that the Hogan Cup remains the best place to see what a brilliant sport Gaelic football can be when played without cynicism and with an attacking mindset.  If you’re not watching, and you miss another miniature classic, you only have yourself to blame.

Ciaran Murphy is producer of the Off the Ball sports show on Newstalk

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