St Kieran’s College is an academy, as much for sport as literature, science or whatever. Tradition drips from its outer grey stone, looks down from the walls of high achievers on those who amble its corridors.
In terms of Gaelic games and hurling, the College Road seat of learning is the standard-bearer, the leaders. On Saturday at Nowlan Park, Liam Smith, Ken Maher and Wexford man, Ger Flood will steer the St Kieran’s ship in the quest for another All-Ireland victory. They are part of the keepers of tradition. John Knox reports.
What about Saturday?
Liam Smith (LS) - “An appearance in the All-Ireland final is great for the school, both schools. The schools have played each other in many big games, but an All-Ireland final is totally new. It looks good for Kilkenny. We have one Laois chap. Between the panels we must have 70 Kilkenny lads. I don’t know how many are eligible for the minor team, but things are looking good.”
Ken Maher (KM) - “History is being made and it is marvellous to have it being made in Kilkenny and in Nowlan Park. We suffered one defeat this season. We are a good team. We have enjoyed a very good season. We lost to a CBS team playing well.
“It is all set up for a most interesting All-Ireland final. Our lads are aware of the loss. The final is a lottery, and it is all about form on the day.”
Ger Flood (GF) - “The work being done to promote the game in both schools is huge. There is a culture there. The first day I came four years ago I saw lads walking the corridors with hurleys. I didn’t know whether to take the hurleys off them or not. It is the culture.
“The enthusiasm of the young lads, with the work of the staff and clubs is great for the game. Great numbrers want to be playing, whereas some other schools suffer in terms of numbers.”
LM - “When you walk through here you can’t but see and feel the history. A lot of players have gone on to represent Kilkenny; Nicky Rackard with Wexford’; Eoin Kelly with Tipperary and so on. Tradition is a big thing. Those fellows were in the position these boys are in now. The lads have a chance to make their name.
“They are in an All-Ireland final. It is hard to imagine Henry Shefflin or D.J. Carey being here. They were. The team pictures on the wall are a constant reminder of a great past. Tradition is not a burden. With have 54 Leinster and 18 All-Ireland titles. That makes you feel proud.
“The clubs put in massive work, as do the Development Squads, and there is joined up thinking in Kilkenny. We and the lads in the CBS are in touch with county managers and so on to make sure players are not over worked. We are all part of a process.”
The approach to the final!
GF - “You try and keep a routine for the players. A lot goes on in and around an All-Ireland final, and especially this one which is unique, but you try and keep things steady. The players focus is on this one goal. They seem relaxed about the whole thing. It can be difficult to manage the pressure, but they will get only one shot at winning this final.”
LS - “We are trying to turn around a six point defict from the Leinster final. That is the challenge. There is pressure, but it is good. We the adults look into things more than the players do. It is a gameto them. You don’t over complicate things for them.”
KM - “One of the main things is that the players cherish the day, the history and tradition of the occasion. It will be a great day.”
The prevailing attitude
LS - “In the championship we used 27 players. We used 34 in the league. The team has evolved. The joy for us sometimes it that we don’t know our best XV. The last day Robbie Donnelly came on and made a massive contribution. The day before Conor Murphy came on and made a massive contribution.
“There are four lads who never made a Kieran’s panel before in contention for places. They were slow developers. Seeing lads develop like that is a real joy.”
GF - “We try and pick the team on current form. The lads have been working hard. They are proud to be representing Kieran’s College.”
KM - “For me it is a great honour and privilege to be involved. I am a past pupil. I am acutely aware of the rich tradition. Wonderful teams have passed through. We are trying to build on that tradition.”
Losing to the CBS in Leinster final.
LS - “We were disappointed, but the better team won. The quarter-final was very difficult after that. Ours are young players. Some are only 16. We didn’t play for 25 minutes against Loughrea, but then the belief began to grow. That was a huge game. Loughrea were very good. Beating Ardscoil was massive.
“Small things turn games, turn seasons; a touch of genius can do it too. When we lost the Leinster final we knew we might get another chance to win the All-Ireland. That chance has come. We are now facing the best team in the championship - the challenge is massive.”