Saint Finbarr's Farranferris

Images and words courtesy of Plunkett Carter

 Click here for images of a selection of Saint Finbarr's Farranferris Harty Cup winning teams.

Your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions. What schoolboy hasn’t fantasised? One day he’s scoring the winning goal in an FA Cup final and the following night when Cork are two goals down in the All-Ireland final he is sprung from the bench to score three lightening goals! In bed at night, in their dreams, players achieve everything there is to achieve in sport. They have accomplished the lot and all in time for breakfast. In the early days of the Harty Cup history “no hopers” St Finbarr’s, Farranferris endured years of frustration and disappointment on the hurling fields and could only dream of lifting the most cherished trophy in Colleges sport when rules of reality did not apply.

Christy Ring at Saint Finbarr's Farranferris in 1967
Christy Ring with the young hurlers of Saint Finbarr's Farranferris in 1967.

There was always great rivalry between Farna and the Mon. Former Cork great John Lyons talking of the forties said in Tim Horgan’s excellent ‘Farna’s Hurling Story

It wasn’t just rivalry it was enmity. Our trainers Brother Lee and Doctor Connolly very nearly came to blows at times and passion on the pitch was just as intense. And yet only a field separated the schools. In 1942 Mon won the Harty while Farna playing in a breakaway competition won the Munster Cup. Both claimed to be Munster Champions.

An opportunity to settle that argument was afforded when both qualified for the Dr Cohalan Cup final and the match, which attracted a huge crowd to the Mardyke took on phenomenal significance. A great game ended in victory for Farna and captain Michael Murphy (future Bishop) was shouldered off the pitch amidst emotional scenes. “Being beaten by the Mon that day was hard to take” recalled John Lyons.

I can’t leave that decade without returning to Tim Horgan’s  ‘Farna’s Hurling Story’  to remind modern players of the sacrifices boys of earlier times made for the sake of playing a game of hurling; Tim tells the fascinating story of how Bishop Murphy who, while playing for the Glen, cycled from Dingle:

On Saturday after a hearty breakfast and with only tuppence in my pocket, I set off on my bike from west of Dingle, through Inch, Milltown and Killarney, where I spent my tuppence on a packet of Jacobs biscuits to sustain me till I reached the county bounds. I arrived in Macroom at 10.30 that night. Next morning I cycled on to Cork, played for the Glen in the afternoon and cycled home again after the match.!

Unbelievable! The training facilities were primitive at Farna in the 40s; they didn’t even have goalposts. Farna returned to the Harty Cup competition in 1944 and went through a lean spell but, towards the close of the decade, there was light at the end of the tunnel as some promising teams emerged.

The closest they came to achieving that goal was in 1952 when, led by Terry Kelly, they were beaten by two points by St Flannan’s in the final. Every dog has its day and Farna had a few days in the sun in the 50s; once when captained by future Bishop John Buckley they beat invincible neighbours North Mon in the O’Callaghan Cup final; and on another memorable occasion when, chancing their luck in football, they recorded a sensational victory over St Brendan’s, Killarney in the semi-final of Corn Uí Mhuirí. They conceded just three points in the final but still lost by a point to De La Salle in wind, rain and a sea of mud at Dungarvan. Bishop Buckley’s Episcopal predecessor Michael Murphy, a minor All-Ireland medallist with Cork, captained victorious Farna teams in Munster competitions in the early 40’s.

A wind of change blew across the seminary in the autumn of 1962 and the Farna students were dreaming again but this time the dreams were born out of actual reality. The hurlers whose skills had been developed under Father Eddie Keohan’s coaching in the junior leagues and who reached the final of the previous season’s Dean Ryan Cup began to display championship style form.

For decades they were the soft touch every other college craved when the draw for the Harty was made. Sullivan’s Quay, no world beaters themselves, were the first to fall through the trap door when beaten by double scores in the opening round of the Harty. It was only after they had trounced prolific winners St Flannan’s that others began to take notice. In the semi-final Thurles CBS appeared to be overawed by the Seminary who, after another high scoring game, had a comfortable margin of fourteen points to spare at the final whistle. The Examiner was lavish in its praise of Farna who it said “had players of merit in every section of the field, yet their strength lies in their team-work, in their speed into the tackle and in their fitness.”  Mentors Doctor Carthach McCarthy and Father Denis Ford had worked miracles with the squad. Christy Ring, a great friend of Farna, also helped to prepare the team and they were in prime condition for the greatest day in their history, St Patrick’s Day 1963, and the meeting with holders Ennis CBS.

An Examiner headline predicted that the Farranferris backs held the key to victory and warned that defenders Vincent Hodnett, Frank Crowley and Donal McCarthy had to mark tightly if the dream was to be achieved. Hurling legends Jack Lynch, Con Murphy, Eddie Keher shone like beacons in their schooldays and wizards Tony O’Sullivan, Teddy McCarthy, Denis Coughlan, Johnny Crowley, Tim Crowley, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Timmy McCarthy, Donal Óg Cusack and DJ Carey dazzled in colleges hurling in more modern times. But none made a greater impact than Rathcormac star Seanie Barry did in the papal colours of Farna during 1963. He scored 3-5 against Flannan’s, 1-6 against Thurles and another 3-5 despite double marking as Farna created history with a magnificent victory over Ennis in the final in Thurles after which the Examiner thundered:

the fury of the driving rain was matched by the intensity of the hurling.  There can be no doubting the merit of this historic win. Farranferris as a team showed all the qualities of champions in a particularly trying hour when they were severely tested. Ennis could not match the lordly display of the Farna half back line of Jerry Hennessy, John Collins and captain Connie O’Leary or the tenacity of Hodnett, McCarthy and Crowley inside them. They were also outplayed in midfield and could never curtail a brilliant attacking force led by the dynamic Barry.

Years of frustration and humiliation were forgotten and tears of joy were shed when a jubilant Connie O’Leary raised the Harty Cup aloft. Even Doctor Connolly, the roaring marauding terror of the sidelines, was caught for words. Farna qualified for the All-Ireland final with a wide-margin victory over St Mary’s, Galway.

It was much tougher in the final against Ballyfinn when they were slightly flattered by a seven point win in which was fashioned out of sheer spirit, a refusal to accept what midway through the second half looked like defeat

reported the Cork Examiner whose scribe conceded that the moment of glory was inspired by Barry.

This writer is always loathe to lionise young players but this remarkable penchant of Barry’s to snatch scores at the most dramatic and vital moment cannot pass without comment. Barry has smoothed Farna’s passage to victory throughout the year but perhaps never more strikingly than yesterday.

On St Patrick’s Day 1967 Farna returned to Thurles, the scene of their greatest triumph, and crossed camáns with Limerick CBS in the Harty final. However, there was to be no repeat of the ’63 heroics and even the presence of Christy Ring on the sideline and in the dressing room couldn’t change the inevitable. Limerick, going for a four-in-a-row, were a powerful team and were not flattered by a 4-9 to 1-5 victory margin which was a true reflection of the play.

Father Michael O’Brien marked his return to Farranferris as a teacher in 1965 and, after successfully coaching the younger teams, he stepped up in 1968 to become the driving force behind the re-emerging seminary team, many of whom owed their appetite for hurling to an earlier coach Father Donal Linehan.  Farna beat Limerick, Thurles and Colman’s to qualify for the 1969 Harty final where they were opposed by holders Chriost Rí in the first ever all Cork decider.  According to the Examiner it was a great final and the manner in which Farna achieved their second Harty will be savoured for many a day in the seminary. Midway through the second half they led by two goals but the picture changed as Chriost Rí fought back to leave one point between the sides with four minutes remaining. Then Donal Collins passed to Tim Crowley who soloed 20 yards before shooting a rasper past Chriost Rí’s outstanding keeper Jim Cremin who had to pick the ball from the net again a minute later when Jim Hegarty scored. I love the Examiner’s piece which read;

the determination of Farranferris was mirrored most accurately by the lion-hearted Frank O’Brien who with blood streaming from a head wound shrugged off the side-line attentions of the St John’s Ambulance crew to dash back into the fray.

Others to receive special acclaim were Tadhg Donovan, Kevin Murray, Noel Crowley, Tim Crowley and Donie Collins. A few weeks later in the most one sided All-Ireland in Colleges history Farna destroyed St Kieran’s at Thurles. They won by a record margin of 5-15 to 2-1. You can play like Christy Ring or Jimmy Barry Murphy at their very best but if someone scores 4-2 in an All-Ireland they’re going to walk away with the man of the match award, which Frank 0’Brien did to claim his little piece of immortality. 

Farna disappointed in the first 13-a-side Harty Cup in 1970 but bounced back the following year.

The shattering defeat of favourites St Flannan’s in the Dr Harty Cup final at Thurles yesterday was certainly a surprise in a competition noted for its shocks, but the classic display by Farranferris was almost incredible,

wrote Jim O’Sullivan in the Examiner.  Leading six points to one at the interval a goal from John O’Donovan in the 32nd minute helped to crush the challenge of St Flannan’s before it had time to materialise.

It all seems to have been so easy and those on whom Jim O’Sullivan showered the plaudits were Tadhg O’Sullivan, Declan Meade, Denis O’Keeffe, Dan Dwyer, Gerry Hennessy and Tom Fogarty.  In the All-Ireland final at Thurles a rampant and brilliant St Kieran’s avenged their 1969 trashing with a well merited victory over the Cork men. Dan Dwyer’s brilliance had been a feature of Farna successes all year but the Kieran’s mentors assigned Kilkenny minors Ger Woodcock and Nicky Brennan to keep a close eye on him.

Michael Ellard of the Cork Examiner rated the 1972 Farna side as the best ever to represent the seminary and Father Gardiner, from finalists St Flannan’s, who had spied on them in the semi-final when they defeated North Mon, was inclined to agree saying that the standard portrayed in that brilliant encounter was the highest he had seen for a number of years. Those observations were “bang on” and though Flannan’s tried hard they could never get to grips with the physically more mature Cork side who had a very easy 6-11 to 2-7 victory. Farranferris never allowed their complacency to be disturbed and, with calm precision, they shot five goals in the first half to leave the Clare side psychologically beaten at half-time.

In the All-Ireland final Farna trailed St Kieran’s by four points as the game entered the last quarter when a remarkable transformation took place after super sub Tadhg Murphy was introduced; points from Tom Fogarty (2), Murphy and Tadhg O’Sullivan levelled the game. Dan Dwyer added two more and with Kieran’s on the ropes Murphy sealed the issue with a superb goal. Kilkenny minors Billy Fitzpatrick and Brian Cody shone for Kieran’s but not as brightly as Brendan Manley whose heroic defending in the first half kept Farna in the game. Manley was well supported by Declan Meade and Ger Duggan in defence while the scorers and ace provider Billy Mackesy were also to the fore. 

In 1973 Johnny Crowley who had been hurling out of his skin with Bishopstown was persuaded by Father O’Brien to continue his education in Farna. In hurling parlance it was a case of the rich getting richer and Johnny’s arrival ensured that progress continued in the seminary. It was one of the weakest Harty competitions since the decades of the split and Farna had a wide margin victory over Iognáid Rís in the semi-final before inflicting an even heavier defeat (5-14 to 2-5) on Cashel in the final. St Colman’s defeated North Mon in an earlier round after which, following an objection and counter objection, both were removed as a result of registration irregularities. Had circumstances been different the Mon felt that they could have been Harty champions! Their boast was put to the test when the sides clashed in the semi-final of the O’Callaghan Cup after which Farna’s deserved victory and the subsequent chant “we are the champions” now had a victorious ring to it. However, Farna got a mighty shock in the All-Ireland series when they were ambushed by Gort in the semi-final. 

Farranferris’ Harty Cup final victory margins got bigger and bigger and in 1974, after leading 4-9 to no score at half time, they completed the four-in-a-row with a massive 33 point victory over Limerick CBS. Tadhg Murphy became the first player to win three Harty medals at under 18 level.

Cloaking themselves in a mantle of glory, Farranferris inflicted an hour of torment on the students from Sexton Street. Hunting relentlessly to preserve their unbeaten record, they dictated every trend and every facet of play in this mis-match,

 wrote Michael Ellard in the Examiner. Farna needed a good contest to round off a historic year and their meeting with St Kieran’s, victors over Gort in the All-Ireland semi, in the Croke final in Dungarvan provided that. Farranferris were leading by four points with eight minutes remaining when Kieran’s rallied and drew level with the help of four unanswered points from frees by Brendan Fennelly. With a replay looming Farna swooped and priceless points from Ger McEvoy and Tadhg Murphy gave them their fourth All-Ireland.

Father Michael O’Brien was the man primarily responsible for the great upsurge in the hurling fortunes of Farranferris. Apart from the first Harty in 1963 Father O’Brien guided all the other teams which brought so much honour to the renowned college. O’Brien’s glorious 12 year tenure in Farranferris came to an end in ‘76 and the schools fortunes had begun to decline after the break up of the ‘74 champion team. They exited in the first round in ’75 and ’76 and lasted until the semi in ‘77. The following year they were unluckily beaten by eventual champions Temple more in Cashel after which Christy Ring’s presence in the dressing room would be missed for evermore; he died the following spring six months before the younger Christy made his Harty debut. Limerick whipped Farna in’79 and the Mon administered a similar dose in ’80. It was the same story in ‘81 when Nenagh sent them packing.  

Then in 1981 the Messiah returned; Father O’Brien answered an SOS from Father John Buckley and agreed to coach the teams. Progress was reported when the Dean Ryan Cup was placed in the trophy cabinet in 1982 and, though beaten in consecutive Hartys by Flannan’s in 1982 and ’83 after tremendous tussles, it was obvious that a new force was ready to put Farna back on the map. Having knocked loudly on the door in ’82 and ’83 they blew it open in ’84. Father O’Brien’s pastoral duties prevented him from continuing his great work in Farranferris and new coach Sean O’Riordan inherited the squad which captured the Dean Ryan two years earlier. Farranferris needed two matches to see off the challenge of Cashel in the first round. Three players, two from Cashel, were sent off in the first match yet Farna had to claw back a six point deficit to survive. They beat North Mon by a goal in a classic semi-final described by Brendan Mooney in the Examiner as the greatest colleges match he had ever seen. Farranferris were on course to record their seventh Harty victory when Limerick were awarded a 20 metre free in the last minute. Pat Davoren’s miss-hit shot which bounced awkwardly and slipped over the goal line to level the match is illustrated in Maurice O’Mahony’s sequence of pictures in the Examiner. Farranferris, turning in a tremendous second half display, left nothing to chance at the second time of asking as they trounced Limerick 4-9 to 1-7 in the replay. It was a tremendous all round team performance which ensured victory; even so DJ Kiely, Tom Kingston, Mark Foley, Declan Kenneally, Pat O’Callaghan and Barry Harte came in for extra special praise in the match reports.

It being GAA Centenary Year the All-Ireland Colleges final was televised live from CrokePark. Unfortunately, TV viewers were not treated to a classic as Farna recaptured the magic which made them College kingpins during their four-in a row years and St Kieran’s could not live with the Munster champions who recorded a very easy 1-15 to 0-8 victory. It brought the curtain down on a great year for Farranferris; Sean O’Riordan, Kid Cronin, Father Johnny Collins and newly appointed Auxiliary Bishop John Buckley could all take great credit for the Farranferris revival. Farna made it to the Harty final for the last time in 1999 when the Niall Ahern coached side, after a promising first half, failed to cope with a very strong finishing Flannan’s side which won 1-14 to 1-8. Diarmuid O’Flynn, writing in the Examiner, lauded the brave efforts of Tom Kenny, Mark O’Connor, David Niblock, Brendan McGinn, Stephen O’Neill, Richard O’Riordan, Conor Hegarty, Frank Hickey, Conor Fitzgerald  and Ruari O’Mahony particularly for their tremendous first half when they led by seven points.


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