THERE was ice on the pools on the roadside and the watery sun was no match for the cold, biting wind as we made our way to the Ahamilla GAA grounds on Saturday morning last.
Any self-respecting schoolboy would have been snug in the blankets but not so the senior football team of Clonakilty Community College, who were being put through a vigorous training session at 9am in the morning.
With the school’s hurling team playing on Thursday last, the footballers were unable to train as usual on Friday so they opted to tog out on Saturday morning, under the watchful eye of manager and coach, Micheál ‘Haulie’ O’Sullivan.
The Carbery Rangers’ senior manager has had great success with the college teams over the past ten years but their Corn Uí Mhuirí semi-final on Saturday in Knocknagree is unknown territory for the school.
‘We were competing in the vocational schools’ competitions up to two years ago,’ said O’Sullivan in the shelter of the stand as the lads togged off afterwards.
‘Then, when the colleges were all united two years ago, we decided that we would enter at the top, the Corn Uí Mhuirí, as we had a good young team.
‘We knew the standard that was required because we had held our own with Corn Uí Mhuirí teams like Skibbereen and Macroom in challenge games, but you only got that standard in the Munster vocational finals or All-Irelands.
‘Even though we didn’t qualify from our section last year, it was a learning curve and we knew we could hold our own. The big difference is that there’s no bad team in Corn Uí Mhuirí football and you have to be on your game every day or you’ll be beaten.
‘We’re not worried about the Kerry factor as we have already beaten Tralee and Killorglin. They were very good games and we weren’t found wanting.
‘We’re good enough for this level, whether we’re good enough to take another step remains to be seen.’
Hogan Cup and Munster champions Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne will have a big advantage on Saturday as they have been able to concentrate entirely on football, while the Clon college is very much a dual school.
‘The dual factor is a big thing,’ admitted O’Sullivan.
‘We couldn’t train on Friday because the hurlers had a replay on Thursday. We try to train twice a week but over the last few months we have had to go every second week with the hurlers.
‘There is no physical training as such in our sessions as the lads are playing so much, with their clubs as well, so it’s all match-orientated stuff.’
What does O’Sullivan expect from the Kerry opposition on Saturday in Knocknagree?
‘We know that they’re the All-Ireland champions, going for four-in-a-row in the Corn Uí Mhuirí,’ he said.
‘They have a number of Kerry minors who won the All-Ireland last season. They had a big win over Tralee in the quarter-final despite the fact that they were missing four players through injury who had played in the All-Ireland colleges’ final last year.
‘They are an exceptional side, much more experienced than we are but, that said, we’ll go in as underdogs but as well-prepared underdogs, ready to give it a right good go on the day.
‘It’s a huge incentive for our lads to be playing such a good team.’
With days to go to their biggest day yet in the Corn Uí Mhuirí, O’Sullivan explains just what occasions like this mean to Clonakilty Community College and its students.
‘It’s huge for the school to reach the Corn Uí Mhuirí semi-final for the first time,’ he said.
‘It’s great for the young lads, in particular, in first and second years, as they see the older lads getting the profile, the press coverage, the publicity for the school. It will inspire them to emulate these players.
‘This team is an exceptional bunch of lads and many will be available again next year. After that who knows?
‘That’s the beauty of schools’ football. You lose half a team and think you will be weak the following year but young lads develop fast and surprise you.
‘It’s all about playing and building up a tradition in the school. Hopefully, we’ll add to our tradition again on Saturday.’