Presentation College Athenry's Gavin Lee in action during the 2019 Croke Cup Final against St Kieran's, Kilkenny.
Presentation College Athenry's Gavin Lee in action during the 2019 Croke Cup Final against St Kieran's, Kilkenny.

Presentation College Athenry continue to produce talented hurlers

By Damian Lawlor

Two of Galway’s all-conquering 2019 minor hurling team will spearhead Presentation College Athenry’s bid to reach the Niall McInerney Cup final at St Joseph's Doora Barefield's club-grounds (1pm) this Saturday.

The Galway side face a determined St Colman’s Fermoy outfit when they clash in the Masita GAA All Ireland Post-Primary Junior Hurling semi-final.

Former Galway underage star Finian Coone is co-managing the Athenry team along with Colm Larkin, and he says that while the two county minors, Liam Leen and Gavin Lee, are a huge boost to his side, their fate will be determined by the team’s overall work ethic.

“The two lads are brilliant,” Coone says. “Liam Leen is captain of the team and Gavin Lee was also on the panel that won the minor All Ireland. But we have serious representation from the clubs of Galway and they are doing a huge job for us on the ground.”

In addition to the boost that the Galway minors give the side, six of this year’s team were present when Athenry won the Masita GAA Niall McInerney Cup last year. And with players from seven prominent local clubs represented on the current panel, the future looks bright. “The clubs are strong at underage level,” Coone says.

“Athenry, Craughwell, Clarinbridge, the likes of those are feeding in players to our set-up. There is still lots of underage competition going on here in Galway at the moment so the lads are well tuned in and up to pace. Craughwell only won the Under 16 title last week and the Minor A championship has just recently ended.

“But, as a school team, we still manage to meet twice a week and we get two hours with the lads and that is crucial for gelling people together. They give it everything in that time and we get plenty of stuff done.”

This is the last year of the All-Ireland Series at junior level, due to the recommendations of the GAA’s Talent Academy & Player Development Review. Coone can see the reasoning behind that move but says he would personally be happy if the All-Ireland series continued at some stage in the future.

“Look, I can see why they would make this call, but I know the lads here love this competition. You meet them in the corridor, and they want to stop and talk about playing St Colman’s, what the Cork style of hurling will be like.

Finian Coone captained NUIG to Fitzgibbon Cup success in 2010.
Finian Coone captained NUIG to Fitzgibbon Cup success in 2010.

“For many of them, this competition gives the chance to see what other provinces and teams are at, how those sides play, and the series gives the lads a chance to measure themselves against the best sides from other corners of Ireland.

“I don’t think it would take too long to complete an All-Ireland series every year but that is just my opinion.”

Coone also an interesting observation about the younger breed of player coming through the ranks. “When I was playing around their age group all the emphasis was on skills and everything else would be built around that,” the former NUI Galway captain recalls.

“But now lads are really working on their S&C levels. They are already well conditioned by the time they arrive here, and it seems to be the priority – the skills are then coached but they are already at a physical level that previously we wouldn’t have been at.

“I guess development squads and clubs are playing a role in this but the S&C work is definitely being started earlier and earlier and I can notice that.”

Playing St Colman’s won’t be an easy task. The level of work being undertaken in Cork underage hurling is impressive and Coone knows what a proposition the Fermoy side will be. “But we are playing for a place in the McInerney Cup final and for a Galway team that is a lot to be fighting for.

“It would mean a lot to us if we can get to the final and try to bring that cup back home. It would mean a lot to Niall’s family as well.”

As for Presentation College itself these are heady times indeed. With 1100 students, they just recently moved into their new school premises and work on their sports facility is currently being finished.

“Right now, this junior hurling competition is the talk of the school,” Coone says. "Everyone is excited by it. Hopefully we can go further.”