Clare v Limerick is an Ard Scoil Rís school reunion
By John Harrington
Sunday’s crunch Munster SHC clash between Clare and Limerick at Cusack Park will be a real school reunion.
Many of the major personalities involved, both players and management, have been significantly shaped by their time as pupils or teachers at Ard Scoil Rís secondary school in Limerick City.
The list of current Limerick players who are alumni is lengthy, and includes captain Declan Hannon, Cian Lynch, Shane Dowling, Mike Casey, Aaron Gillane, David Dempsey, Kevin Downes, William O’Donoghue, Barry Hennessy, and Peter Casey.
There’s not as many Ard Scoil Rís pupils on the Clare panel now as there was in the recent past, but Jamie Shanahan, Ian Galvin, and Cathal McInerney are still flying the flag.
Clare coach Liam Cronin (a Limerick native) is a teacher at Ard Scoil Ris and managed the team that won the Harty Cup earlier this year.
He was assisted by Limerick sub-goalkeeper, Barry Hennessy, while Clare panellist Paul Flanagan is another Ard Scoil Ris teacher who has done trojan work in the school as a hurling coach.
Limerick coach Paul Kinnerk is a former Ard Scoil Ris pupil, while Aaron Gillane returned to the school last year as a teacher having won a Harty Cup there in 2014.
Ard Scoil Ris have won five Harty Cups in the last nine years to establish themselves as one of the most productive hurling nurseries in the country, and in that time the positive impact they’ve had on hurling in both Limerick and Clare has been unquestionable.
Former Limerick hurler, Niall Moran, is a teacher in the school and either managed or coached most of those Harty Cup winning teams.
The rivalry between Clare and Limerick is one of the keenest in hurling, but in Ard Scoil Ris he has helped both counties come together to create a winning culture.
“It's an interesting dynamic,” Moran told GAA.ie “Most of the talk is around hurling, and in both cases they'd nearly know what's going on in the other county.
“Over the last eight to ten years between minor, U-21 and senior, there's been an awful overlap of players from both counties who have gone to the school and then contested with one another at inter-county level.
“Our feeder clubs and schools have been enjoying a lot of success. The Sixmilebridge and Cratloe picked up Clare county titles in recent time, and in Limerick Na Piarsaigh, Patrickswell, and even Adare before that have had a lot of success.
“We're very fortunate that we're enjoying the fruits of the labours of those clubs, but we'd also like to think that we're contributing to the success of the clubs and the two counties in some ways.
“With hurling, the viewpoint is that clubs and counties have the players from March to September, and from September right back to March their development is aided by the school.
“We're continuing their cycle and they're continuing our cycle and please God it will be mutually beneficial in the years to come too.”
It’s no coincidence that the success of Ard Scoil Ris in recent years has coincided with an upsurge in Limerick’s fortunes at underage level, most notably in the U-21 grade where they’ve won two of the last three All-Ireland titles.
It’s well established by now that the success of a hurling county is index-linked to how vibrant the game is at secondary school level.
St. Kieran’s College has long been the conveyor belt that has provided Kilkenny county teams with a steady stream of stars, while Waterford’s current senior panel is dominated by graduates of the De La Salle and Dungarvan Colleges team who won a combined four Harty Cups and three Croke Cups between 2007 and 2013.
Moran is in no doubt that there’s a direct correlation between the health of the schools game in a county and its future hopes of success at inter-county level.
“Of course there is,” he said. “I even saw it over the last couple of Sundays with the Munster minor U-17 competition. That is a phenomenally big stage or a child of the age of 16 or 17.
“But what you'll find is the guys who are playing in Munster schools semi-finals and finals, they're fitting seamlessly into the minor model.
“Whereas when I was a minor myself, your first big day that you really found out how good or bad you were or what deficiencies you had was the day of a Munster Minor Championship match.
“And, unfortunately, in a lot of cases you could be out at the first round.
“By having competed at school level they are competing against the cream and you're learning quickly enough if you're up to it or not up to it. And if you're not up to it you're learning your deficiencies.
“So when it comes to county level, they're not learning a lesson for the first time.”
Limerick hurling is in a great place right now. Their schools are highly competitive, the county’s underage Academy is arguably the best run in the country, their clubs are dominant provincially, and their senior inter-county hurling team now looks good enough to achieve great things in the coming years.
Ard Scoil Ris has been at the heart of the county’s hurling revival, and Moran believes its crucial they strike now while the iron is hot because things might not always be in such rude health.
“These things can be cyclical,” he said. “We're very fortunate that we have a couple of very strong clubs and a strong academy, but that can come and go very quickly.
“So it is important that we keep on doing the right things and maximise what they are. One bad year and question marks are raised.
“Look at Waterford. They may now be entering a period of transition and with that comes uncertainty and with uncertainty there's no guarantee of success.
"You have to strike while the iron is hot, and that's something we're very conscious of in the school, that every team we get a team that has potential, it's important we put the time into them.
“We were fortunate enough to win a Harty Cup this year and we'll treat it like the last we'll ever win because it's important that you appreciate it.
The thing transitions very quickly. Back in the '60s Limerick CBS provided the backbone of the Limerick team of the '70s. They won four or five Hartys and two or three All-Irelands to boot.
“But with the exception of one Harty in the nineties, that was it, the show was over.
"From our own perspective we have never won an All-Ireland Final in the school and that yanks at us too. It's important that we try to keep on improving.”
School is out for the summer, but there will be a strong Ard Scoil Ris presence in Cusack Park this Sunday on the pitch, the sideline, and in the stand.
“There'll be serious craic,” said Moran. “Our parish Castleconnell borders on O'Brien’s Bridge on one side in Clare and on the other we border with Newport in Tipp.
“There will be lads having a few pints on Saturday night and there will be a few balls pucked and hopefully nothing more than that because it can often get overheated between us.
“Look, there's a great buzz around the place, but a little bit like '13, Clare were slow getting the momentum going but when they got it they made hay while the sun shines.
“Fellas just can't wait to go to Ennis on Sunday. Lads just can't wait for it. Maybe it's the prospect of a great game as much as it is the desire to be following your own.”
Limerick and Clare have done great things together as allies in Ard Scoil Rís, but on Sunday the old tribal lines will be drawn and they’ll be enemies once more.