IN THE DYING moments of the epic All-Ireland football semi-final in 2005 between Tyrone and Armagh, Owen Mulligan allowed himself a smile.
As Tyrone were awarded a potentially match-winning free into the Hill 16 goal, Mulligan held the ball before he saw Peter Canavan approaching. Mulligan simply transferred the responsibility to Canavan and the Errigal Ciaran man nailed the opportunity to seal Tyrone’s victory and ultimately place them on course for a second All-Ireland crown in three years.
It was a wonderful snapshot of the links forged when Canavan was a teacher in Holy Trinity College in Cookstown when Mulligan was a student. The unique relationship had formed a bond on the pitch yet a similarly unusual tale is taken to another level this afternoon in Thurles as Limerick face Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Niall Moran lines out at full-forward on the Limerick team yet he is not just a free-scoring attacker for the Treaty men as in his day job he is a teacher in Ardscoil Rís in Limerick city. Outside him at centre-forward is Declan Hannon and at wing -forward in Shane Dowling, two youngsters of immense talent who only completed their Leaving Cert studies in that same school last summer.
On the bench then is Kevin Downes, the bustling attacker who made such an impression when blasting home two goals against Waterford in the 2011 Munster semi-final, and Patrickswell duo Mark Carmody and Seanie O’Brien, three other recent students of Ardscoil Rís. In 2010 the quintet were all part of the school team that claimed a historic Dr Harty Cup title while Dowling, Hannon and Carmody won another title the following year in the same competition. On both occasions Moran was part of the management setups but now he is a teammate of his former students.
“It’s a very special occasion,” admits Derek Larkin, a teacher in Ardscoil Rís and coach to those winning Dr Harty Cup teams. “The school would have a huge interest in today’s game, not just with the lads involved from recent years. Brian Geary and Conor Allis are past students of the school as well, they both would have hurled with us as well and showed great potential then. And then of course you have the players from recent years who were very successful with the school.”
Larkin, a native of Tullamore, has known Moran for years and is effusive in his praise of the Ahane man.
“Niall was a student in the school before completing his Leaving Cert in St Flannan’s in Ennis. He’s a terrific guy and I can never understand how he gets so much stick in Limerick hurling circles. If people only knew the effort he puts into it. His professionalism and preparation are just top class. He is so tuned into inter-county hurling.
“He then came to Ardscoil Rís in 2007, the year he was part of the Limerick team who got to the All-Ireland final. And he got involved in the coaching of teams in the school straight away. We were starting to make strides and he helped bring us on further. The standards he set in preparing for games started to be taken on by our teams.”
Shane Dowling and Declan Hannon lifting the 2011 Dr Harty Cup as joint captains of Ardscoil Rís. Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
The players themselves may have left the school but they continue to make a fine contribution in coming back to help out when asked in taking hurling coaching sessions and presenting medals. Dowling and Hannon have long been anointed as future stars and Larkin freely admits their remarkable hurling talents were evident from an early stage.
A coveted All-Ireland colleges hurling crown may have eluded them during their spell in the school, St Kieran’s defeated them in the Croke Cup finals of 2010 and 2011, but they have moved on from those setbacks to establish themselves in front of a wider hurling audience. Larkin may be an Offaly native but he will travel to Thurles today with a keen interest in how Limerick fare.
“Knowing so many of the players involved, I’d definitely have a huge interest in how the game goes. Niall was always saying this was going to happen that these lads would end up playing senior for Limerick and he’s just delighted to be playing with Shane and Declan now. The lads from the school on the bench have huge talent as well.
“They suffered a big disappointment in losing the U21 semi-final to Tipperary last week so I left them alone after that but I sent out a load of good luck texts then this week. I’d know a lot of the current Clare players as well with the likes of Nicky O’Connell and Darach Honan having been students in Ardscoil so it was a difficult one to watch the last time between Clare and Limerick in Thurles. But today it’s all about Limerick and it’s a great day for Ardscoil hurling.”