BY KIERAN McCARTHY
HAMILTON High School’s class of 2023 will bid to join the heroes of ’93 when they line out in the All-Ireland PPS Senior B Hurling final this Saturday.
The Bandon school previously won this title in April 1993 when a team captained by Newcestown’s Dan McCarthy defeated Ballyfin College by 5-9 to 3-7 in the final played in Clonmel.
That was an historic moment for the Hammies – and the current torch bearers are keen to add their name to the history books.
There are links between both teams, though 30 years apart. Kilbrittain’s Cormac O’Donoghue, late brother of current Hammies manager Aidan O’Donoghue, started against the Laois school. Sean Ahern’s father John played in ’93. So too did Cian Johnson’s uncle John Hurley, who scored 3-2 against Ballyfin, as the All-Ireland title was brought to Bandon.
The class of 2023 wants to make their own slice of history on Saturday when they face Offaly school Coláiste Naomh Cormac in the All-Ireland final in Kilmallock (2pm) with the Paddy Buggy Cup up for grabs.
‘The mood is good, the spirit is good, there’s a buzz around the school, but that is for other people. Like I said before, we have a job to do and we have to do it one more time,’ manager Aidan O’Donoghue says.
‘We are under no illusions about the challenge ahead – Coláiste Naomh Cormac have a lot of inter-county talent on their team so we need to perform to the peak of our powers to get a result here.’
O’Donoghue is asking his team to go to the well one more time and pull out their best performance yet. He feels that is what they need to beat the Offaly side.
Both schools were impressive winners of their semi-finals. The Hammies defeated Holy Rosary College of Mountbellew, Co Galway, by 1-16 to 2-8, while Coláiste Naomh Cormac beat St Louis Grammar School, Ballymena, 1-19 to 1-12, to set up Saturday’s showdown. The Hammies were always in control against Holy Rosary College, building a first-half lead that was never really threatened thereafter, but O’Donoghue has pinpointed areas the Bandon team needs to improve.
‘The biggest positive that day was that we played well. We didn’t set the world on fire but we hurled well all through against dogged opposition,’ he explains.
‘We were well up at half time, they were always going to come back at us but we stifled them very well and saw the game out.
‘There are always areas to improve on; it’s the same with every team. Look at our semi-final – we had three wides on the trot before we got a score. Our shooting has been good all year but we know we won’t get away with three wides in a row on Saturday. We need to be really, really efficient with our chances.’
The Hammies have learned to win in different situations on this journey to the All-Ireland final, and that will stand to them. They won from the front in their last game. Rewind to their Munster final victory (3-12 to 0-20) against Limerick side Castletroy College, the Bandon school bounced back after conceding a late equaliser to win in extra-time; this highlights the spirit in this group. O’Donoghue has previously spoken about their provincial quarter-final against Carrick-on-Suir when they were six points down with five minutes to go, but rallied to force extra time and then win.
Players from eight different local clubs – Bandon, Courcey Rovers, Diarmuid Ó Mathúnas, Kilbrittain, Newcestown, St Mary’s, St Oliver Plunkett’s and Valley Rovers – make up this Hammies panel that will look to leaders like goalkeeper Aaron White, Charlie O’Sullivan, Cork U20 footballer Niall Kelly, and forwards Eoin Guinane, Evan O’Shea, Conor O’Sullivan and Michéal Maguire.
Even though excitement levels are building in the lead up to Saturday, O’Donoghue knows his charges won’t get carried away by the noise and colour. He will give them the same advice he always does: play the game, not the occasion.
‘The Munster final was a big event and we stayed grounded. The All-Ireland semi-final, the same, and we’ll take that same approach into this weekend. The games are getting bigger but the lads are getting used to it and they stay grounded. It’s a solid bunch and they know what to do,’ O’Donoghue says.
‘All-Ireland finals don’t come around too often so we need to enjoy it too, embrace it, but we have a match to play and that is our focus.’
Thirty years ago a Hamilton High School hurling team went all the way to the Promised Land in the All-Ireland senior B competition. The hope is the long wait for a second All-Ireland hurling title at this grade will end on Saturday.