BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
AS Hamilton High School’s achievements grow, so too do the challenges.
On Saturday, the Bandon side will contest a Corn Uí Mhuirí (Munster PPS U19AFC) semi-final for the first time – just the third Munster school this decade to reach the last four of that competition and its hurling equivalent, the Dr Harty Cup, after St Francis College, Rochestown and St Flannan’s College of Ennis.
Mallow is the venue for a 5.30pm throw-in, but standing in their way are St Brendan’s College of Killarney, who had the competition’s roll of honour with 22 titles. ‘Hammies’ manager John O’Sullivan is delighted with how the side have done in beating Coláiste Choilm, St Flannan’s and Tralee’s Mercy Mounthawk to finally break through the quarter-final glass ceiling.
‘At the start of the year, we wanted to go as far as we can,’ he says, ‘we had a strong team and a good squad.
‘One aim was to get over the hurdle of the quarter-finals because it was our fourth year in it and we lost the other three.
‘Obviously, with the uncertainty this year and the different format, every game had more weight on it whereas in previous years the group stage gave you a little bit of leeway.
‘This year, you had to be on the ball for every game and there was no room for error at all. We really just had to take it game by game but then it was great to get over the hurdle of the quarter-final and set our sights on doing as well as we can.’
The current Hammies crop won an U14 county title at A level and so are well used to operating at the top tier, benefiting from the school moving up to the Corn Uí Mhuirí after a Munster U16½B win in 2016.
‘The hurlers had been in the Harty and we had been competitive in that so we knew it wasn’t beyond us,’ O’Sullivan says.
‘That was really the first step, getting to the semi-final in the Harty was fierce exciting and we won the O’Callaghan Cup, so they led the way in getting us up to the higher level.
‘I had a group then that won the Munster U16½B so it was after that that we made the step up.
‘It was logical and we knew that we had a good group coming through. They got to the quarter-finals of the Corn Uí Mhuirí then and we knew that, coming up behind them, we’d good lads, too.
‘We knew at least that we’d be competitive for a few years. We’re one of the few schools to get to a Harty and Corn Uí Mhuirí semi-final in the last decade and that’s with zero training facilities, pretty much.
‘To be fair, if it wasn’t for the local clubs, we’d never get to train. We’re certainly up against it in a lot of regards and that adds to the school spirit and the sense of togetherness.’
And, in a school where numbers are tight, having the selling point of high-level GAA is a benefit.
‘Absolutely,’ O’Sullivan says.
‘It’s in the papers, people hear about it, it’s on Twitter or whatever and people see it.
‘It advertises the school in and of itself and fellas want to be playing in the Corn Uí Mhuirí and the Harty, so that’s a reason for them to come to the school.’
Assisted by Gearóid O’Donovan – an All-Ireland U20 football medallist with Cork in 2019 – and Mike Murphy, past Hammies pupil O’Sullivan has a lot of experience banked since he returned to the school as a teacher in 2002.
‘At that stage, all of the football teams were taken up,’ he says.
‘I started off with basketball because I just wanted to be involved in a sport and then I looked after athletics. When the opportunity came up to take a football team, around 2005 or 2006, I took on the U15s.
‘To be honest, I was totally green. I was learning on the job – I used to go along with the likes of Bert O’Connor and learn from them.
‘I didn’t have much of a GAA background at all. I played a bit in school but I was never involved with a club, basically because Dad wasn’t sporty and we moved a bit when I was younger. The vast majority of my GAA experience was Hammies.
‘I learned from coaches around me, I read up on stuff and looked at YouTube. The last couple of years, I’ve been doing the Cork GAA coaching course.
‘The way we work it is that you take an U15 team and work your way up to senior so I had a previous stint at senior when we were at B level. I was with the group that won the U16½B and moved up with them to the Corn Uí Mhuirí and have been involved with the senior team for the last four years.’