WINNING an All-Ireland final is the greatest feeling a team can have, but defeat can also provide a positive spur, writes Trevor Spillane.
Just ask the players from the Kilkenny CBS, who are back in the All-Ireland colleges senior hurling ‘A’ final. The boys from the James’s Street school will head to Semple Stadium today (Saturday) for a Croke Cup showdown with Dungarvan Colleges as they bid to win the title that agonisingly slipped through their grasp just 12 months ago.
Little over a year ago the Kilkenny school were floored as they came up desperately short in the decider against Nenagh CBS, but faith in looking to the future has helped them bounce right back.
“When we gathered in the dressing-room after the game we told the lads we’d have our chance again this year,” said team selector and Kilkenny hurler Matthew Ruth, who recalled the aftermath of last year’s 3-10 to 2-11 loss in Thurles.
“We told them to remember that horrible feeling of defeat, to use that as motivation for the 2-13 campaign. In fairness, we drew from that feeling throughout all our matches this year.”
While the CBS did reach the final last year the journey there felt a little hollow.
“Last year was a great year, but we had nothing to show for it,” Ruth said of the 2012 campaign.
“We lost both finals by both two points (the Leinster final to Kieran’s by 2-9 to 1-10 and the All-Ireland to Nenagh by 3-10 to 2-11) so that provided great motivation for this year’s Leinster campaign.
“It’s the same for the All-Ireland championship,” he added. “We’re just hoping to make amends again.”
This year has been a complete change in fortunes for the CBS, who have picked up the trophies as they steadily plotted their way into today’s All-Ireland final (throw-in at Thurles is at 3.15pm).
Fresh from a solid group campaign they won the League title against Good Counsel (their provincial semi-final doubled as the league final). They also won the Leinster championship for the seventh time in their history with a 2-9 to 1-7 win over local rivals St Kieran’s College.
The mood in camp is good, reckoned Ruth, but while the players are keen to win as much as they can they haven’t looked too far in front.
“The Leinster championship was our goal at the start of the year,” he said. “We weren’t looking too far ahead - we could have been beaten in our first game against Colaiste Eoin. They were a great team and we needed two points at the end to beat them.
“We kept that idea of taking each game as it came right through the championship, never looking too far in front. The All-Ireland final is the same - we’ll prepare for that like any other game.”
Those preparations have seen the team leave nothing to chance. The CBS played the Tipperary minors in a challenge match last week, a game which came in the midst of a busy training spell for the players, who have been keeping themselves ticking over while on Easter holidays.
“It’s a strange build-up for us in the sense that we have two weeks of holidays leading up to the match,” said Ruth. “However, we’ve been able to work away ourselves, keeping things low-key.”
That’s something that can only benefit the team. Not being in school - something the players won’t mind! - allows the team to escape attention and prepare for the game in their own way.
“It can be a bit of a distraction preparing for the game in school,” added Ruth. “There is great support from the teachers and other students, but it’s no harm to let them prepare for this as just one game, not to get carried away or to feel there is undue pressure on them. We’re happy enough with the quiet build-up.”
History has not been too kind to the James’s Street school in terms of senior All-Ireland titles. This will be the sixth time the CBS have reached the final strait in the race for the Croke Cup, but they’ve only savoured victory once. Despite that, Ruth believes that the ghosts from that 1981 victory (they beat Cork’s North Mon by 3-5 to 1-8) don’t appear to be haunting the current crop.
“I don’t think these lads feel the burden of CBS teams losing All-Ireland finals,” he said. “A lot of these guys won the under-16 title last year and got to the senior All-Ireland final as well. We’ve already won the Leinster league and championship this year, so they’ve been able to get a winning mentality as a group of players, which is a good thing.”
The CBS had a strong spine from the 2012 team, but other strong players have been coming through. The selector was impressed at how the youngsters have been able to step in and help the side reach a second successive All-Ireland final.
“The beauty of the team is that we’re not overly-dependent on any one individual,” he said. “All the lads have chipped in when needed. We’ve even brought in some third and fourth years from the bench at times and they’ve been brilliant too.
“It just goes to show there is a great spirit there in the team - if we lose a lad or if someone is injured we have others there who we know can step up to the mark as well.”
Everyone of those players did their bit in the run through the championship, but when asked for a highlight there’s one game that really sticks out in Ruth’s memory.
“I still look back to the Colaiste Eoin quarter-final and think it was the first game where we could have easily had a very short year,” he said. “It could have all ended there - we got two points at the death to win it.
“The matches against Good Counsel and Kieran’s were good close games as well, but the semi-final against Mercy Colleges we were down by three points at half-time.
“That was another game where it was touch and go,” he added. “We felt we didn’t get going in the early stages but pulled out a great second half performance and moved away.”
That seems to be a common theme of the CBS’s season. Whenever they have had a battle on their hands, the players have stepped up to the task.
“There’s a great spirit in this team,” Ruth agreed. “They’re a close group who don’t let anyone get carried away. There was no panic, even when we went behind in the semi-final, as they dug the result out for each other. Different players have put in the performances for us at different stages throughout the year. There is a good balance there in the team.”
Winning their semi-final against Mercy Colleges on a weather-beaten weekend came with a bonus for the CBS. With the game between Dungarvan Colleges and St Kieran’s rescheduled, the team mentors Niall Tyrrell, Ger Morrissey and Ruth had the luxury of being able to run the rule over potential opponents.
“Dungarvan looked massively impressive,” Ruth said of Saturday’s opposition. “They had excellent forwards, a strong half-back line and midfield. They looked good all over the pitch!
“Scoring five goals just shows they can cut defences open, so it was good for us to get the chance to see them play,” he added. “We know we have our work cut out for us - they’ve won almost all of their games through the championship by 10 points each time so we know we’ll be up against it.”
Seeing Dungarvan hit the net five times wasn’t a surprise for Ruth.
“Dungarvan have a game plan and they use it well,” he said. “They have excellent corner-forwards who got four goals between them (15-year-old Darragh Lyons scored 3-1, Patrick Curran 1-2). We’ll have to try and combat that, work as hard as we can to counter their moves.”
For now the team are winding down their plans, but never taking their eye off Semple Stadium.
“We’ll train throughout the week, just building things up for the final,” finished Ruth. “We’ll have our meetings as well, but we’ll be ready to go at it.”
Path to the final
How the CBS booked their place in the All-Ireland final
Kilkenny CBS 0-14, Colaiste Eoin (Dublin) 2-6
Kilkenny CBS scorers: Paddy Cahill (0-8, 0-7 frees); J.P. Treacy (0-3, 0-2 frees); Kevin Kenny (0-2); Luke Scanlon (0-1).
Kilkenny CBS 1-14, Good Counsel 0-9
CBS scorers: Paddy Cahill (0-4, frees); Luke Scanlon (1-1); Kevin Kenny (0-3); J.P. Treacy (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 65); Robbie Fitzpatrick (0-2); Niall Mullins, Gary Kelly (0-1 each).
Note - game doubled as Leinster League final
Kilkenny CBS 2-9, St Kieran’s College 1-7
CBS scorers: Kevin Kenny (1-1); Gary Kelly (1-0); Paddy Cahill (0-3, frees); J.P. Treacy (0-2, frees); Luke Scanlon, Shane Cuddihy, Paul Delahunty (0-1 each).
Kilkenny CBS 1-12, Mercy Colleges (Galway) 0-10
CBS scorers: Kevin Kenny (1-4); Niall Mullins (0-2); Paddy Cahill (0-2, 0-1 free); Gary Kelly, Luke Scanlon, Paul Delahunty, Matthew McWey (0-1 each).
Total scored: 4-49. Total conceded: 3-32.
Kilkenny CBS panel - Robbie Fitzpatrick (Dicksboro), Paddy Deegan (O’Loughlin Gaels), J.P. Treacy (Young Irelands), Daragh Holohan (Dicksboro), Corey Cahill (Dicksboro), Niall Mullins (James Stephens), Danny Bolger (O’Loughlin Gaels), Kevin Kenny (Dicksboro), Paul Delahunty (Young Irelands), Cathal McGrath (John Lockes), Evan Cody (Dicksboro), Dylan Scott (Dicksboro), Luke Scanlon (James Stephens), Shane Cuddihy (Tullaroan), Paddy Cahill (Dicksboro), Conor Cleere (Graigue-Ballycallan), Gary Kelly (O’Loughlin Gaels), Robbie O’Driscoll (O’Loughlin Gaels), Huw Lawlor (O’Loughlin Gaels), Gary Bryan (O’Loughlin Gaels), Matthew McWey (James Stephens), David Kennedy (Conahy Shamrocks), Jason Carroll (Dicksboro), Michael Power (Bennettsbridge), Criomthan Bergin (St Lachtain’s), Daniel O’Driscoll (O’Loughlin Gaels), Kevin Galvin (Clara), Robbie Buckley (O’Loughlin Gaels), Darren Knox (Danesfort), James Byrne (James Stephens), Conor Doheny (Dicksboro).