North Monastery

Words and images courtesy of Plunkett Carter.

 Click here for images of a selection of North Mon Harty Cup winning teams

I was brought up hearing fascinating tales of the great North Mon Harty Cup teams. Hurling is synonymous with the North Mon and its fame has been established through its Harty Cup exploits. Every student who studied there, at one stage or other, walked up to the old Mon field above St. Vincent’s grounds, or skipped past the Brothers’ cemetery and the Monastery itself, to the pitches above the school. The best of them wore the famous blue and white jerseys in Harty Cup combat and generations of hurlers have posed for victory photographs taken on the steps leading up to the old AG Science Laboratory.

It was in 1918, the beginning of a stirring period in this country’s history, that the Harty Cup was presented for competition by the Archbishop of Cashel and Patron of the GAA, Rev Dr JM Harty. Rockwell College, renowned for its contribution to Irish rugby, was the first to inscribe its name on the plinth when they beat Christians in the decider. Rockwell has the distinction of being one of only three schools to win the Munster Senior Hurling and Rugby titles. A year later North Mon, trained by Harry Atkins and captained by Joe Canton, won the first of its 20 Hartys when they beat Mount St Joseph’s, Roscrea 3-2 to 2-2 at the Mardyke, in a final which had been billed as a contest between the chivalrous “finished” boy hurlers of two famous schools. Roscrea travelled to Cork on Friday night and returned at great inconvenience on the Saturday night mail train. The steady stream of great Mon hurlers which gravitated towards the Glen began that year when Paddy “Fox” Collins, a star on the victorious team, began a lifetime association with the Blackpool club. 

North Mon Greats
Mon Greats
From left to right: Anthony Duggan, Sonny Buckley, Con Murphy, John Lyons and Donal O'Grady.

It didn’t take long for the Harty Cup to capture the imagination of the hurling world. The thrills and excitement of Harty finals were comparable to any county senior hurling final and claimed a special place in the hearts of Gaels for it carried all the pitfalls and uncertainties of the best championships. Fierce rivals Rockwell and Limerick CBS dominated the early years of the competition and shared ten Hartys. In 1927, when the Central Council of the GAA ruled that the foreign games ban should be applied to college competitions, six schools Farranferris, St Colman’s, PBC, St Flannan’s, Limerick CBS and Waterpark broke away and formed their own Munster Cup Competition which existed for 17 years.

North Mon claimed its second title in 1928 (surprisingly not credited in the record books which states “no competition”) when they destroyed Rockwell at the Mardyke and in which captain D. Coughlan, C. Sheehan, MJ Finn and J. Manning all contributed handsomely to a 10 goal victory. The sides met again in Mitchelstown a year later when the Mon who were two goals in arrears at the break turned on the style to win 6-3 to 5-0. Five years later in 1934 future legend Jack Lynch collected the first of his three medals. Team-mates of Lynch on a crack Mon side were Connie Buckley, Paddy Donovan, Dan Moylan and future soccer great Liam O’Neill. After Jack’s departure the Mon inspired by Din Joe Buckey continued the winning run and made it four-in-row-in 1937 when Peadar O’Callaghan of Glen Rovers became the first and only player to win four consecutive Harty Cup medals; and to ensure immortality he was also the holder of two senior colleges football titles as in 1935 and 1936 they brought off the Munster double, a record which wasn’t equalled until 1968. In the Harty they overcame a rousing challenge from Colaiste Na Mumhan, Mallow, a victory garnished with the help of brilliant performances by Lynch, Goggin, Hogan, Riordan and O’Callaghan. A fortnight later they completed the double when retaining the Corn Uí Mhuirí defeating Ennis 5 points to one in Limerick. The Mon were now firmly established as one of the most famous hurling nurseries and repeated the four-in-a-row between 1940-’43. Mick Kenefick, the youngest player to captain a Cork All-Ireland winning team, then played with the Mon. The iconic Con Murphy, a future president of the GAA, had the proud honour of captaining the ’41 and ’42 sides and some of those who kept the flag flying after his departure were Christy Twomey who captained the 1943 winning team, Sean O’Brien, John Lyons, Jimmy Goulding and Mossie Riordan.

My own hazy memories of the Harty Cup began in 1955 when the Mon bridged a 12 year gap to record an eleventh success. I was in Glanmire Station along with a few thousand others to welcome home the champions having been brought there by my father, a Fair Hill native, former pupil and employee (gardener) at the north side institution. Here’s how the Evening Echo described the homecoming:

The extent of the reception was not expected as thousands of citizens descended on Glanmire Station long before the train carrying the victorious team was due to arrive. The real excitement began when the train came through the tunnel and such was the cheering that the music from the pipe, brass and flageolet bands could scarcely be heard.  Traffic was later disrupted as the victory cortege wound its way through the principal streets of the city.

Earlier in the day in Thurles the Mon were worthy and convincing winners over Limerick,  a victory gained as a result of superior team-work which stemmed from total midfield dominance courtesy of a brilliant Noel Lynam and Pat Finn partnership.  The home coming was an experience which made one appreciate the enthusiasm a Harty Cup victory evoked and my father promised that we would return for a repeat the following year.

Well, he had a long wait as it was five years before the opportunity arose again when they beat holders Tipperary CBS in the semi-final following which the Echo summed up as follows:

The miss hitting, hesitancy and inaccuracy of the opening period will be forgotten in the admiration the winners evoked in a brilliant second half. As one, the team found their form especially the forwards Pat Curley, Dave Joyce, Corny Mulcahy, Billy Fitton, Pat Duggan and Michael Murphy foraged with tremendous success and, backed by the midfield combination of Eugene O’Connor and Davie Moore, subjected the Tipperary defence to almost continuous pressure during which the scores flowed.

I can rely on my own memory for this period and I was very familiar with some of those mentioned in the Echo; Curley, Joyce, Fitton and Moore were all exciting prospects while Corny Mull had few equals as an under-age player; with effortless ease he displayed exciting skills which earmarked him as a future great. Limerick CBS beat De La Salle in the other semi to set up a classic final with some extra side issues adding to an intense rivalry. A few weeks earlier Limerick ended the Mons very live double dreams and then went on to beat Flannan’s in the football decider. They were endeavouring to emulate the Cork school which achieved the elusive double in 1936.

Like Kilkenny Manager Brian Cody who, when asked  in 2006 if stopping Cork’s 3-in-a-row was a motivation, answered “no”!,  winning the McCarthy Cup had been their target all year. Mon coach Br Vaughan,  expressing similar sentiments, wasn’t worried about Limerick CBS equalling their double records (1935 & ‘36), he just wanted another Harty Cup and was only concerned about living up to the traditions of greats of Gaelic games who had worn their colours with pride in previous decades.

North Mon’s superior craft and fitness carried the day and they ran out comfortable winners which is best summed up by the Cork Examiner report:

North Mon are the Munster Senior Colleges Champions. Before a crowd of 8,000 at Thurles yesterday they gave an object lesson in the art of finer hurling to Limerick CBS and recaptured the Harty Cup after a lapse of five years with a superiority far greater than their 0-10 to 1-4 victory suggests………. From the very start it was obvious that they were the better side. They had craft, speed and ball play the Limerick side lacked, and though a smaller side fitness told in the long run. At the end, as at the start, they were hurling with consummate ease. Crisper, cleaner in their striking they hurled all the time to the open space and found a man unmarked and used the ground ball with discretion and skill.

Brother Vaughan had done his homework and astute reading of the game contributed enormously to the Mon’s victory; John Sutton, originally selected at centre back, lined out at wing back to curb the wiles of Limerick danger man Pat Murphy while the switch of Pat Curley to mark a flying Brendan Kelleher paid rich dividends.

Five weeks later North Mon won their first ever All-Ireland when overcoming the fierce challenge of St Peter’s (Wexford) at Thurles.  After which the Examiner reported:

they showed they could depart with facility from the brilliance of their style of another day, and play the sound, basic hurling that wins All-Irelands. The clash with the Leinster champions demanded the latter type.

A team with less spirit and hurling ability than the Mon would have been swept aside by the heavier Wexford boys who showed the benefits of the two tough games which they needed to overcome St Mary’s, Galway in the semi-final. Winning a first National title was great; All-Ireland champions had a lovely ring to it but never had the same magical appeal of the Harty.

Twelve months later North Mon retained the Harty and in the process laid an 18 year bogey by beating Thurles CBS. Before an attendance of 5,000 they gave a fine exhibition to win an exciting game by double scores. The master move which swung a precariously balanced match in the Cork team’s favour was the switching of Billy Fitton to full-forward while others who scaled new heights were Jack Buckley, Paddy Duggan, Corny Mulcahy, Murt Murphy, Pat Curley and Gerry Gibbons. To digress a little, this was to be the last celebration in the Mon for a while. However, it was like old times again in 1966 when a past pupil, Tony Connolly (who admits to never having played competitively with his school), was amongst the victorious Cork players who proudly brought the McCarthy Cup to his alma mater!

In 1970 North Mon, out of the limelight since their 1961 victory, relished the opportunity of restoring pride when they opposed form team Limerick CBS (4-in-a-row winners ‘64-‘67) in Charleville in the first 13-a-side decider. It was with more hope than confidence that they sought their fifteenth crown, their greater staying power helping them produce a thunderous last quarter to hammer the Shannonsiders 6-5 to 4-7 on a sod that was itself battling to recover from earlier torrential rain. The Mon, tuned to perfection by trainers Brs Minniter, Barry and O’Leary, had no weak links and their victory march began with their successful takeover at midfield where Captain Dessie O’Grady, whose brother Donal played in attack, and Michael Corbett gave them the edge at the right time. Ten years of frustration for the Mon was forgotten when they added the Croke Cup (all-Ireland)  to the Harty when they had a comfortable  2-13 to 2-8 victory over Kilkenny CBS. Flawless displays from right half back Vivien O’Brien, the most competent hurler on view, and Kieran O’Connor contributed enormously to the triumph.

When Donal O’Grady returned to teach in the AG in 1978 he served something of a colleges coaching apprenticeship, taking charge of teams at the under 14 grade, but by 1979-80 he was coaching the school’s senior team with the same Murt Murphy who had trained him. The combination worked well, with the blue and white jerseys of the Mon going on to appear in four consecutive Harty Cup finals. O’Grady the coach was a mixture of the thoughtful and the forthright even then; his advice to look up before clearing the ball instead of belting it aimlessly co-existed with a dismissal of minor cuts and scrapes as things to boast about after the match. Asked about the best players on those sides, O’Grady exhibited the reluctance to pick out individuals that later marked many of his post-match interviews as Cork coach:

We had very good teams. People would know the likes of Tomás Mulcahy, Tony O’Sullivan and Paul O’Connor, who all went on to play for Cork, but we had other very good players like Martin Lyons from Blackrock, Jim Murray - a great centre-back, Paddy Connery of Na Piarsaigh, John Drinan, Robert Allen and of course a very young Teddy McCarthy in the latter years.

The Examiner correspondent tipped form team St Colman’s to see off the challenge of North Mon in 1980 pointing to the fact that the Fermoy team were more impressive in the semis, crushing holders Flannan’s, and having already three victories to their credit over the Mon that year. Of course that was music to the Mon’s ears and the team, trained by Donal O’Grady and Murt Murphy, were anxious to compensate for the hammering received from Flannan’s in the previous year’s decider. An estimated attendance of 6,000 people were treated to a classic. The excitement over the hour was unceasing as the lead changed hands several times, and the tension in the last five minutes was electrifying as Colman’s pegged back a goal deficit with three excellent points to square the match. The replay did not produce the same high standard of hurling but the huge attendance were treated to non-stop action for the hour after which the Mon emerged deserving winners despite finishing the game with 14 players, chief scorer Robert Allen having been dismissed in the closing stages. Over all, North Mon were craftier in attack spearheaded by a brilliant Tony O’Sullivan who was supported by Tomás Mulcahy and Paul O’Connor.

For the third consecutive time North Mon heralded in the decade with an All-Ireland triumph. This time they were a different class and blitzed Birr 5-11 to 3-7 in Thurles where brilliant roving full forward Tony O’Sullivan’s personal contribution of 2-8 was the highlight.

In 1969 Colaiste Chriost Rí played in the last Harty final to be staged at the old Athletic Grounds and 12 years later were North Mon’s opponents in the first decider to be played at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. North Mon retained their crown after a tremendously exciting final. The 8,150 attendance were on their feet as the heroic Mon defence clung on to their slender lead. Both sides were reduced to 14 players when Chriost Rí’s star performer Tony Leahy was sent off along with Robert Allen who had the ignominious honour of being dismissed in successive Harty finals. However, it was a decision which baffled trainers and supporters on both sides. In the final moments Finbarr Golden reduced the arrears to the minimum when raising a green flag with a gem. The siege was lifted when Chisolm’s long range point ensured the Mon’s 17th title.

St Flannan’s defeated North Mon after a replay in the 1983 decider and they clashed again two years later when the Ennis team, the more impressive in the qualifying stages, were strongly fancied. Michael Ellard writing in the Cork Examiner explained how the Mon tore the form book to shreds:

A spark of hurling brilliance ignited North Mon to superlative scoring deeds and propelled them to a comprehensive triumph over St Flannan’s at Charleville.

Scoreless and trailing by four points when playing against the wind the Mon produced a flash of genius which determined the destiny of the famed trophy as half time loomed. Ger O’Riordan soloed through before billowing the Flannan’s net. It was a goal calculated to inspire and boosted the Mon’s confidence, setting them on the road to victory. After that it was the turn of the Mon forwards to display their prowess, and they did so brilliantly in the second period when chalking up another 4-6. In the first half the Mon defence took the lion’s share of the credit for holding Flannan’s to just four points. Mon and Birr clashed again in the Croke Cup final in Portlaoise and, after a fascinating duel in the sun, could not be separated and journeyed to Limerick for the replay. There was no repeat of the drama when North Mon, after a whirlwind start, shattered the historic pretensions of Birr with a massive 4-11 to 1-5 win. A glittering hat-trick of goals from captain Frankie Horgan laid the foundations for the scintillating victory.

Twelve months later (1986) controversy reared its ugly head when it was only under protest that Midleton consented to play the decider against North Mon at Pairc Uí Chaoimh. The holders who had to find almost an entirely new team were put to the pin of their collar to retain their crown.

The outcome of yesterdays enthralling Harty Cup final was quite predictable once North Mon scored the only goal five minutes into the second half and settled down to produce a standard of hurling which the courageous Midleton CBS couldn’t match,

wrote Jim O’Sullivan in the Cork Examiner. Those who impressed most on a workmanlike Mon team were Mark McElhinny, Paul Cummins, James Kenneally, Donncha Hurley and Tony O’Keeffe. North Mon: J Kenneally, M Whooley, K Keane, P Jeffers, B Wall, J Healy (Capt), R O’Connor, M McElhinny, P Cummins, T O’Keeffe, G Healy, R Feeney, D Hurley, M Lynch, T Goulding. Sub: F Healy for Goulding. It was a magnificent triumph for trainers Br Nevin and Murt Murphy; the latter had long since been synonymous with the Mon and its renowned Harty tradition which he inherited forty years earlier, and as a player, trainer and coach ensured that those with whom he became associated knew what was expected of them when representing North Mon.

Winning a Harty is something every schoolboy hurler craves; a Harty medal is  conspicuous by its absence from the trophy cabinets of  scores of inter county stars and even icons such as Johnny Clifford and Denis Coughlan, two of Mon’s most famous products.

North Mon and Midleton renewed rivalry when they met again in the 1994 decider which on this occasion was played in Fermoy where fireworks were guaranteed as between them the teams back-boned the Cork minor side. On the Midleton side were Donal Óg Cusack, Micky O’Connell, Joe Deane and Pat Hartnett,  while the Mon coached by Nicky Barry and Gerry Kelly were able to call on Sean Óg Ó hAlpín, John Anderson, Kevin Egan, Adrian Coughlan and captain Briain Hurley.

Goalkeeper Briain Hurley, who captained the side, was unbeatable and outside him Brian Kidney, Michael Ahearne and Gem Mehmet never put a foot wrong, but it was their half back line of Ger Shaw, Kevin Egan and Sean Óg Ó hAlpín who were the real heroes, and it was little wonder that Ó hAlpín was adjudged “Man of the Match”,

wrote Brendan Larkin.  

A few weeks later North Mon wrote another glorious chapter in their illustrious history when they beat St Mary’s (Galway) in an exciting All-Ireland final at Nenagh. Brendan Larkin of the Examiner was one of thousands captivated by the goalkeeping display of the Mon’s Briain Hurley of whom he wrote:

when it comes to recalling this latest victory, the name of goalkeeper Briain Hurley will readily spring to mind. Rarely have I witnessed such an outstanding display of net-minding by one so young.

St Mary’s were in the driving seat and looking set for victory when Mon’s incredible spirit came to their rescue, striking with a goal from Kevin Egan and a point from Adrian Coughlan to leave it 1-10 to 1-6, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

For much of the Harty history the Mon have remained a powerful name in hurling, though they have sadly slipped at present. The Mon no longer intimidate but nothing can tarnish their proud record in the Cup. As sure as night follows day the time will come again when the Harty Cup will be borne aloft and tar barrels once more will burn in Shandon Street. ‘Ar aghaidh, ar aghaidh, an Mhainistir Thuaidh abú.

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