Class acts ready to line up for intriguing Dublin hurling final

Coláiste Eoin can take credit for anything up to 26 players on Kilmacud and Cuala panels

In Parnell Park this afternoon, Cuala and Kilmacud Crokes will hunker down for the sort of inter-familial bunfight we usually have to go beyond the M50 to find.

Nobody will come with anything up their sleeve, neither side can magic up a secret the other won’t know they’re hiding.

In both teams, there will be players who are closer to direct opponents than they are to their own team-mates. Sport has a way of making a small world out of a big city.

It’s all Coláiste Eoin’s doing.


The gaelscoil tucked in off the Stillorgan dual carriageway can take credit for anything up to 26 players across the Cuala and Crokes panels tonight.

From Fergal Whitely, the young Crokes wing-forward just a year out of minor right up to Paul Schutte, the experienced Cuala corner-back, at least half the starting line-up on both sides will have grown up together, studied together, played, fought and made-up together since before their voices broke. It's bound to bring a certain edge.

Clan warfare

“It has got to the stage sometimes over the years where it’s nearly clan warfare between them,” says

Proinsias de Poire

, long-time Gaelic games guru in the school.

“Sometimes, you’d nearly leave the ball in the dressing room for the first half and just let them at it to beat the head off each other.

“It would have been heavy enough at times over the years. They would take what had happened on the weekend into the classroom and you’d have to sit them down and explain to them the concept of the school jersey being all-important.

“Generally, by the time they get to fifth and sixth year, they get it because they have spent so much time together over the years.

“They’re in class together, on teams together, socialising together and the only time they’re in opposite corners is when they play for their clubs. Over time, it stops being a them and us situation. It’s only us.

“In fairness to the clubs, we had a special day here last Friday week for the clubs in the area to come and meet each other on a social basis to help break down any barriers that there might be within the groups. So they’ve introduced a day where they mix the teams up and have a day together.”

While it’s not particularly unusual outside of Dublin for certain schools to deliver a meaty chunk of the bill on county final day, it’s rare enough in the sprawl of the capital.

De Poire is in Coláiste Eoin long enough to remember when some of the grounds of the school were little more than farmland and the hurling facilities amounted to a battered old wall with scutch ground in front of it. It’s a different story now.

“We set out here many, many years ago to promote the game and do it right. We’ve come a long way – in my early days here it was a farm and there were a few fellas banging the ball against a wall. To go from that to being able to provide the Dublin senior team with the backbone of various teams is something we’re very proud of. Long may it last.

Major clubs

“Hurling has developed tremendously here. If you came down here and took a picture, you’d see young lads with hurleys in their hand everywhere you looked.

“We’ve just spent €35,000 on a brand new hurling wall so it has become like an academy. It doesn’t matter whether you play or don’t play, every child would have a hurley in their hand and they’d be banging off the wall.

“We’re lucky that we have two major clubs feeding in to us. Well, four clubs really with St Olaf’s and Ballinteer St Johns – and we would get a few from Ballyboden St Enda’s as well. But Cuala and Crokes would be the biggest. It goes in peaks and troughs, of course it does – the minor final on Saturday is between Na Fianna and St Vincent’s. But in a couple of years, the southside clubs will be strong again, you can see that is on the way.”

De Poire is in as good a position as anyone in Dublin to make that judgement – he'll be on the sideline tonight with St Vincent's for that minor final. He was around for the start of the Dublin colleges experiment that did so much for the game in the capital and saw Coláiste Eoin boys – including John Sheanon of Cuala and Shane O'Rorke of Kilmacud –play on the first Dublin Colleges team to win an All-Ireland in 2006.

Over the years, he's watched teams with Seánie McGrath (Crokes) and Mark Schutte (Cuala) pick defences apart, first for the school, later for the county, later for the county seniors. He's seen the school break away from the amalgamated colleges side and strike out on its own – and, what's more, hold its own.

In 2013, a team featuring Oisín O'Rorke, Cian MacGabhann (Crokes) as well as Sean Brennan and Con O'Callaghan (Cuala) only lost out to Kilkenny CBS in injury-time. The Kilkenny side ultimately went all the way to the All-Ireland final that year.

“At the moment, we’re back in with Dublin Colleges at 16s and 18s because we felt there was a little bit of a dip in our standard and it wouldn’t be fair to send a team in like lambs to the slaughter. But I would imagine that our under-14s and possibly under-16s will compete at under-18 as a sole entity again.

“We go group by group. We stuck it for 10 years going it alone but you have to be fair to them too. We train them to the level they’re capable of and, in fairness, the Leinster Council have been very good in giving us the leeway to switch back if we have to.

“They recognise that promotion of hurling is what we’re about and that winning isn’t the be-all and end-all. And in fairness, most of the schools see that as well.”

Through it all, the clubs have been as good for hurling in the school as hurling in the school has been for the clubs.

De Poire reckons there’s very little between the two teams today.

Maybe Cuala have the greater scoring potential but not for certain and not by much. Ultimately, they know too much about each other for it to be anything but close and hard and cranky. Always has been.

Best position

“It is hard sometimes between them. I’m not saying it is easy or that it was ever easy. There have definitely been times when I’d have to talk to this player or that player and ask why a certain pass wasn’t made to a player who was free in a good position. ‘If it’s to do with a club issue, you’re no good to me,’ I said.

‘You’re going to go back playing with your club on the weekend and given the same scenario, you’ll play the ball to the guy in the best position. It can’t be any different when you come in here.’ I’ve had that conversation on numerous occasions.

“But we’ve always tried our best to break down any walls between them. We generally appoint neutral captains, somebody not from either of the two clubs to gel them together and bring them together.

“If you appoint someone from one club, it puts a lot of pressure on him both from his own side and from the other side. That has caused a bit of angst down the years alright.

“You never know the dynamics between each different group and each of them has their own individuality. Sometimes the biggest problem is on the sideline when you have fathers from each of the different clubs coming up to you.

“These are often the mentors for the club teams on the weekend and there’s obviously going to be a tension there if they see fewer of their guys making it onto the team.

“In fairness, that doesn’t happen as much any more as it has in the past. You just get on with it and do the best for the group.”

It can be complicated stuff. When lives entwine as tight as this, it would be odd if it were simple.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times