St. Raphael’s boys make a little piece of hurling history

Talking Sport with Stephen Glennon

ST. Raphael’s, Loughrea are no strangers to creating history, given that they are the only Galway and Connacht college to win the Croke Cup in the history of the All-Ireland ‘A’ colleges hurling competition. It was no surprise then that the history-makers achieved another unique feat in the school year just gone by.

In addition to winning the Connacht Colleges ‘B’ competition for the fourth time in five years, the school was also part of the amalgamated Mercy Colleges outfit that claimed Connacht ‘A’ honours with victory over Presentation College, Athenry in the Spring.

It was the first time an amalgamated side won the provincial title but, more remarkable, was that a core group of players from the one school now held medals from both grades in the same year. “So, I suppose, these fellows are very unique in the sense that they hold an ‘A’ Connacht Colleges medal and a ‘B’ Connacht Colleges medal and it’s more than likely that it won’t ever happen again,” says St. Raphael’s manager Sean Parr.

Indeed, whatever about a core group of players winning both titles, with the Colleges hurling competitions to be restructured for the next school year, this could possibly result in amalgamated sides being disbanded – so bringing an end to the successful partnership between St. Raphael’s and Mercy College, Woodford.

At any rate, there can be no disputing the notable achievements of the St. Raphael’s players, who also won the Regan Cup (League Division 2), defeating ‘The Bish’ in the decider, and went through the school year unbeaten in the province.

To the fore in the respective campaigns was Kilconieron’s Shane Caulfield and Parr has nothing but high praise for the centre-half back. “Shane has 10 senior hurling medals with Raphael’s. He has four Connacht Colleges ‘B’, he has a Connacht Colleges ‘A’, and he has five Regan Cups, in a row.

“It is some haul. The thing about it is that if you are a hurler in the best school in Kilkenny, you are not going to be hurling on the school’s senior team in second year but Shane was in goal that year. It’s incredible when you think about it.”

Parr says, though, that the current crop of players was four years in the making and highlights this was reflected in the age profile of the St. Raphael’s and Mercy Colleges outfit. “About eight or nine of our ‘A’ team were 18 and a half. They were underage for Colleges but overage for minor hurling with their clubs. So, we had a team who were a big, physical set of lads.

“That said, we had a lot of losses along the way as well. We lost to Portumna [in the ‘A’ final] a year ago, so winning it this year was a major string in the bow. Look it, that kind of group of players only comes together once in a while and, I suppose, we capitalised on it when it happened. A lot of teams don’t.”

Unfortunately, when it came to the All-Ireland series, Mercy Colleges lost out to Kilkenny CBS in a cracking game at the penultimate stage in Banagher while St. Raphael’s, themselves, were caught by a pacey St. Mary’s of Belfast side in their All-Ireland ‘B’ semi-final.

“St. Mary’s of Belfast have almost 1,200 students – it is a CBS – while we have 400. So, it was David v Goliath stuff. I have regrets from that game in some respects. They played a running game and the following Saturday when we (Mercy Colleges) played Ulster Colleges [in the ‘A’ quarter-final] we were able to set ourselves up differently to deal with that and to counteract that.

“So, while we benefited the following week, if you could have foreseen what was going to happen and had your tactics a bit better we could possibly have overturned that result,” believes Parr, who agrees it may have been a blessing in disguise.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.