*Liam Cronin, Fintan Fitzgerald, Sean McMahon and Derek Larkin. 

ARD SCOIL RÍS go in search of their sixth Harty Cup title with former Clare coach Liam Cronin spear-heading their management.

Cappamore native Cronin was part of the Clare management during Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s three-year tenure, the highlight being their run to the All-Ireland semi-final in 2018. For the Harty Cup he is joined by Clare hurler Paul Flanagan and Derek Larkin of Clooney/Quin in the management.

Winners of the Dr Harty Cup for the first time in 2010, Ard Scoil collected further titles in 2011, 2014, 2016 and 2018. None of the current students were in the school when the side which contained Cratloe’s Diarmuid Ryan and Rian Considine won the Harty Cup in 2018.

Cronin explained, “Our last Harty Cup success was in March 2018, our sixth years are our September 2018 cohort so it’s one of the first times in the last fourteen years going back to our first Harty Cup success in 2010 that we don’t have students in the school that don’t have a living memory of seeing the school win one, it is something we have spoken about and the importance of this group of players making their own history and legacy within the school. They are hugely looking forward to the occasion, there is a great buzz around the school as you’d expect in the lead-up to the final and everyone is really looking forward to Saturday”.

Cusack Park is the venue for Saturday’s tie against Nenagh CBS which has a 1pm start-time. Liam admitted he was surprised when he heard the final would be played in Ennis. “To be fair to Eoin Ryan and Munster PPS they’ve done a great job the last number of years in trying to get inter-county grounds for the Harty Cup final which is only right given the nature of the competition, this time of year we’re grateful to get any surface but the size and quality of Cusack Park is second to none so I’m sure both teams are eagerly looking forward to getting out and playing on it”.

Teaching at the Limerick school since 2002, Liam has witnessed its growth to become a strong hurling nursery. On what enabled Ard Scoil Rís to develop as a hurling force, he said, “It’s going back to 2005, we as four or five hurling teachers we felt we were going through the motions a little bit, we felt if we were going to do it that we needed to go do it properly. Our aim back then as lofty as it was, it was to become the main hurling school in Limerick as Sexton Street had done for the previous thirty or forty years. The road we’ve travelled in the last twenty years has been fantastic, there’s been a huge amount of hard-work going on in the school, a huge amount of teachers willing to give of their free time to help guys out every Tuesday and Thursday after school, we’re also lucky enough that our primary schools that feed in and our local clubs are doing a huge amount of work as do the academies in Limerick and Clare, we’re very fortunate, yeah we do an awful lot of work in the school but there is an awful lot of other bodies feeding into our success”.

Liam Cronin.

Harty Cup management has become more difficult over the past two years with the introduction of the split-season which has brought forward the beginning of the inter-county minor and U21 campaigns, according to Cronin. “Given the fact that Harty is U19 we’re not just talking to inter-county minor managers but talking to U20 managements and it is very tough there’s no point saying otherwise, obviously every young lad’s dream is to play inter-county hurling with their county but I personally think at this time of the year that Harty Cup is the first week of February and inter-county minor and U20 don’t start until April I just think something needs to be looked at in terms of making sure that players are looked after and that they are not expected to be doing much, I’ve spent huge amounts of time particularly in the last few weeks and months trying to manage the player’s loads and making sure they are injury free and fit to perform”.

There’s a high proportion of players with inter-county experience in the starting fifteen and on the bench for the North Circular Rd school, some of whom are acting as substitutes for the first time in their careers. “No matter what team you’re involved with at whatever level your ability to communicate with your players and help them understand exactly where they are at and what they need to do is hugely important. We’ve tried to be almost like an inter-county management team every year for the last twenty years in how we prepare our teams, again it is down to the quality of player we have coming into the school that every man no matter if you’ve played inter-county at any level that you still have to fight for your place within the squad”.

Ahead of the weekend, he said they have a full panel to pick from. “We’re all okay, Diarmuid Stritch had picked up an injury during a challenge match in Christmas, he started the semi-final against Thurles and came through it okay, you’ll always have a few knocks and niggles as you go through the game but we will be selecting from a full squad on Saturday”. Cratloe’s Eoin Carey is a potential doubt, The Clare Echo understands.

Cratloe’s Marc O’Brien scored a last-gasp free to see them past Thurles CBS in the semi-final. The manner of the victory may have been stressful for the Ard Scoil camp but has left them in a positive place prior to Saturday’s final. “It was no different to the Hospital game in the quarter-final there was only one point in it going into the last ten minutes, what the lads have learned to deal with in those matches is a pressurised situation and to stay composed, stick with the game plan and as I’ve complimented on their performances at the end of each of those games the resilience and character they have has really got us over the line and to this stage in the competition”.

Gavin Keary, Liam Cronin, Kieran Corcoran and Jimmy Browne. Photograph by Eamon Ward

No goal has been scored by Ard Scoil Rís for their victories in the quarter-final or semi-final, a point that has been well flagged with Liam. “We’ve created goal scoring opportunities, when you look back on the semi-final video and we were up by eight points after ten or eleven minutes then Marc O’Brien had a really good chance to score a goal but it just didn’t come off, we have created goal scoring opportunities but we ask the boys to play what is in front of them, if teams want to drop off us and close off the space in front of our goal then we have the capable players in the middle third to get scores from play further out the pitch”.

Sixth year students on Thursday commenced the pre-examinations in advance of the Leaving Certificate. The maths teacher confirmed that no the Harty hurlers received no special dispensations to avoid tests prior to the provincial final. “They’re into the Pre’s on Thursday morning and they run right until the Friday of the Mid-Term, they’re lucky enough that the Monday after the Harty Cup final is a Bank Holiday so they have that day off, going back a number of years we had Harty Cups on a weekend and the boys have gone straight into their Pre’s on a Monday, in a way it helps them to distract them a little from the game, their studies are probably equally as important this week until Saturday comes around”.

Harty hurling is the primary focus for Cronin presently but attention will soon switch to Éire Óg. He is expected to have a greater input as coach this season under Gerry O’Connor, he had been involved in Matt Shannon’s management last year and was involved with O’Connor previously at the Ennis club before they worked together at inter-county level. “Éire Óg have been on the brink of winning Canon Hamiltons for the last couple of years but they haven’t got over the line, there is a good cohort of players there and I’m sure they will be disappointed with how 2023 went. The Clare championship is incredibly competitive every year, a quarter-final loss to the eventual winners Clonlara was premature in terms of where we thought the season was going to go but we’ll see what 2024 brings”.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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