Árdscoil Rís an academy for both Limerick and Clare

Hurling qualifer opponents have much to thank school for vibrant cross-border rivalry

Last spring Limerick felt like it was at the epicentre of hurling prosperity. The county team had a decisive fixture with neighbours Clare to decide which of them would be going up to Division One A.

Limerick were already All-Ireland under-21 champions, Na Piarsaigh had brought the All-Ireland club title back to the county and three of the Fitzgibbon Cup semi-finalists were Limerick colleges and local school Árdscoil Rís was in the Croke Cup final against St Kieran’s of Kilkenny.

On Saturday Clare and Limerick renew rivalry in round two of the All-Ireland qualifier series and the landscape has changed a little. Clare won promotion back in March and subsequently the league title, leaving Limerick becalmed for another year in Division One B.

Disappointing exits

Since then both counties have made disappointing exits from the championship. The league holders crashed out against the county they had beaten in a replay to win the spring title, Waterford, whereas Limerick couldn’t turn a one-man advantage for the best part of an hour into a decisive edge against Tipperary.


This weekend will usher one of the counties into the waiting room for next season.

For all Limerick's positive indicators they aren't nearly as far down the road as Clare, who have won four of the last seven All-Ireland under-21 titles as well as a MacCarthy Cup three years ago.

There are though many examples of cross-pollination between the counties. Two Limerick men had a major influence on Clare's 2013 All-Ireland: Joe O'Connor, a fitness, strength and conditioning coach (now back working in the same capacity with his own county), and trainer Paul Kinnerk, whose return to the Clare backroom team was hailed by Clare's former hurler of the year Tony Kelly, who described him as "as one of the best coaches or trainers I've ever worked with".

Former Clare All-Ireland winning captain Anthony Daly is in charge of the Limerick minor hurlers and two of his former team-mates, current Clare manager David Fitzgerald and Brian Lohan, are coaches of two of the city's third-level institutions LIT and UL respectively.

Another border crossing for hurling purposes is the secondary school Árdscoil Rís, which has become a modern phenomenon with four Harty Cups (Munster senior hurling) and three Croke Cup final (All-Ireland) appearances this decade.

One of the teachers is Niall Moran, who had a long intercounty career with Limerick and won All-Ireland under-21 medals. He explains how the school has become a melting pot for hurlers from both counties.

“We’re two or three miles from the Clare border so you’ve got clubs like Cratloe, Parteen, Sixmilebridge and Clonlara all within the catchment and Na Piarsaigh and Patrickswell in Limerick. Traditionally there were more from Limerick and Clare kids went to Flannan’s or Killaloe but the Rice Cup (under-16) winning team this year was split eight Limerick and seven Clare.

“There’s a multitude of factors why this changed. School catchments change and over the last 10 or 12 years the school has established a reputation for combining hurling and academic success.”

He believes it’s not a complete coincidence the clubs in the catchment area have nearly all won county titles within the last 10 years and Na Piarsaigh have three Munsters as well as an All-Ireland under their belt. Of the 60 players starting in last season’s county finals in Clare and Limerick, 34 had been to the school.

“There is an influence,” says Moran. “Everything is interlinked and it would be strange not to think that some of the success is attributable to the school and the attention paid to players during the seven or eight months during which they’re under the school’s tutelage.”

The important aspect of having three Limerick colleges in the Fitzgibbon Cup semi-finals is that there are now a lot more hurlers from the county involved. The colleges also have a Clare contingent.

Fired the imagination

Brian Lohan says that it is an influence but accepts that he isn’t sure whether players might have developed anyway. As a player he participated in the rivalry but says that it’s a long time since the fixture really fired the imagination.

“There’s always a bit of an edge between Limerick and Clare but I don’t know if it’s as edgy as it used to be and when the championship was all knockout. Back in the 1990s Clare and Limerick were among the top three or four teams in the country whereas they aren’t now even if both have the potential to be at a higher level and I expect they will be.”

Within Árdscoil there’s no confusion of identity according to Moran, who works with teachers from both sides of the county line.

"There's never any animosity. The teaching staff is split as well. For instance Paul Flanagan (Clare player) coached the Harty Cup team this year. The school is a school and if you try to characterise it as a Clare school or a Limerick school, you run into trouble. We establish our own hurling culture. "

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times