The fearless bunch want to step out of the shadows

Kilkenny CBS have long been regarded as the ‘nearly boys’ of colleges hurling, but they are ready to step back centre stage in Saturday’s All-Ireland colleges senior hurling final against Nenagh CBS in Thurles.

Kilkenny CBS have long been regarded as the ‘nearly boys’ of colleges hurling, but they are ready to step back centre stage in Saturday’s All-Ireland colleges senior hurling final against Nenagh CBS in Thurles.

Like all on the colleges’ scene, the James Street lads have had to live in the shadows of city rivals, St Kieran’s College, the dominant force in Leinster and at national level. Now the CBS have earned their day in the sun and they are ready to let rip.

“This is a great time for the school,” insisted CBS team manager, Seamus Dwyer, when he looked at the bigger picture and victories for the CBS at junior level in Leinster. “It is fantastic to be back in the All-Ireland final. We consider ourselves one of the top hurling schools in the country. The All-Ireland final is where we want to be.”

For as long as the players live, they will remember this day, the day they carried their school colours in an All-Ireland final. Saturday will be the last match this team will play together, Seamus reminded.

“Players from 11 different clubs are involved. It is so unusual to be part of such a team. It rarely happens outside the inter-country scene,” he reminded.

Demanding weeks

Three physically demanding weeks, three mentally draining games, preceded our chat. Apart from the All-Ireland semi-final against Portumna Community School, the CBS were the underdogs.

They weren’t favoured against St Kieran’s College in the Leinster final. It was likewise against Harty Cup holders, Colaisti-na-nDeise in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

“That sort of stood to the players,” the Ballinakill (Laois) clubman smiled. “We used the siege mentality. In the semi-final we were favourites and the players handled it well.

“Then,” he added hastily, “they are an incredible bunch of young hurlers, from the lads at the top end who are 19 to the lads who have just gone 15. They clicked. For some reason they just clicked.”

For seven of the players, Saturday’s final is the last call, the end game in terms of colleges hurling. There will be other times for all the rest.

“Those are the fellows who are driving all of this,” the manager said of the senior players.

The players took ownership of the cause after St Kieran’s beat the CBS in the Leinster final, after, it was generally agreed, they enjoying a fair slice of luck. The older fellows on the CBS panel, the lads in 6th year, called a squad meeting.

The players had a clear the air meeting, without any prompt or influence from team management. They weren’t going out on a whimper, was the message from the room. They weren’t going without silverware.

“That was all their own idea,” Mr Dwyer assured. The final is a big, big day for young lads to handle. Our job at this stage is to keep them grounded, to keep them focussed. It is a big day in many ways, but in others it is just another game of hurling.”

The CBS didn’t feature in the closing stages of the Leinster League, which was won by their neighbours and the reigning All-Ireland champions. A late goal by St Brendan’s, Birr, slammed the door shut with a place in the final beckoning.

Sort out panel

The CBS had used the campaign to sort out their panel. There was still sorting to be done. During the Christmas holidays they played two challenge matches, one against De La Salle, Waterford, in Conahy on December 29. The game turned out to be the turning point in their season.

The team began to take real shape.

“From then until now there has been an upward curve,” Seamus insisted. “That was the turning point. I think it was that we found the right balance in the team. We had been experimenting. We had been missing key players, some injured and two recovering from illness. Those guys coming back changed things.”

Up to that the CBS hadn’t used their under-16 players who had won the Leinster championship. With more hands on deck, so to speak, there was increased competition for places, a new energy within the group.

“They have a complete disregard for reputations and names,” the manager said of the squad. “Things like that mean nothing to them. They are fearless.”

Fearless and disciplined, one suggested.

“They will have to be,” was the reply. “If we are to beat Nenagh, who get 70 to 80% of their scores from frees, discipline will be massive. How do we work on it? We drum it into them. They can’t lunge in to tackles, make silly mistakes. We have focussed a lot on that. Things have worked out so far.”

He insisted the players were a focussed group anyway, whether it was academically or in sport. Good, solid, grounded fellows were the words he chose.

No egos

“We have no discipline issues,” the manager assured. “Everyone has been on board from the first day. There are no egos.”

The road to Semple Stadium started against Good Counsel (New Ross) on a cold, wet Februaryt day on the second pitch in Thomastown. The CBS started well, which is their way in games. They did enough to get through, without being spectacular.

Next up were St Peter’s College (Wexford). The 1-6 to 0-6 win was a dogfight.

“It could have gone either way,” Seamus Dwyer admitted. “We were lucky. The big difference was the subs were brought in. They got us over the line.”

And then the Leinster final! “Huge disappointment!” The words tumbled out of the manager’s mouth without being asked.

Huge, we questioned?

“Yes, there was,” he assured. “There is no point saying anything else. We set out to win the Leinster championship. After that we would take things as they came. We did everything we could.

“Neutrals would say we played a lot of hurling in the game. Now, the best team always wins, but we would consider ourselves very lucky not to have won. With another few minutes of play we would have pulled back St Kieran’s despite the two mishaps of conceding two goals at crucial times. I think we deserved to win the game.”

Seven days later the battered and bruised faced a massive challenge against Harty Cup kings, Colaisti-n-nDeise in the All-Ireland semi-final. By then the players had made their move. There was no self pity. Instead, the clear goal was to win the All-Ireland.

“Beating the Harty Cup champions was epic,” the manager said. “We started at 100mph and we should have been out of sight at half-time. Then we were lucky to hold on and to force a draw in normal time. We were the better team in extra-time.”

The CBS took the semi-final in their stride. There was a job that needed to be done. Tired though they might have been, they did the business with a late rush of scores.

Nenagh, however, present a very different challenge, often playing with 13 men behind the ball.

Set up defensively

“They seem to be set up defensively,” was the CBS mentor’s view.” They are going to be very, very difficult to break down. It is a new challenge for us. Maybe they won’t afford us the same amount of thought they did St Kieran’s in the semi-final, in the sense they might not think we have so many big names. They have a huge work-rate, so we will have to match that for starters.

“Their game is difficult to break down. We will have to be creative. There will be space on a bit open pitch like Semple Stadium. It will be up to us to find and create it.

“All we can control, and we have been saying it to the players, is ourselves and how we perform. If we perform to the best of ability we will get Jack Langton (the captain) up the steps.”

The CBS don’t talk about 1981, the one and only time they won the title, or 2007, the last time they were beaten in the final.

“This team hasn’t won anything,” Seamus Dwyer said. 2This is the chance for the CBS to step out of the shadows. We have been in four or five Leinster finals out of the last seven or eight. We are not winning enough of them.

“These lads are ready. I think our time has come. There will be no regrets.”

The CBS played the UCD Freshers team in a challenge match January. One of the concerns official had before that was that their squad lacked size, and some were very young.

“When we mixed with those guys and survived, we knew we had something,” Seamus Dwyer smiled. “Honesty of work. Forget names. Forget reputations. Forget who scores. Just win the games. That’s our attitude.”