Hurling and Science: Incompatable foes?

There were no cries of “Welcome back to Leeside BT Young Scientist, we’ve missed you a lot” above in Ballsbridge last Friday when Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan collected their prestigious gong. No declarations of famines ended, nor statements of defiance aimed at those in media who’d written them off. When it comes to science (at underage level at least), representatives from Cork have always fared successfully on a national scale. Seven BTYS awards have now been returned to the Rebel County since the turn of the century, a competition which has developed into a duopoly between ourselves and Dublin in recent times.

The Coláiste Choilm duo held off the challenge of Castletroy College in Limerick, a victory which surely removed any gloss from our neighbor’s subsequent triumphs in the McGrath Cup and the Co-op Superstore Munster Hurling League. But the dichotomy between our scientific achievements and our sporting fortunes over the weekend does raise a salient question; Can sporting success coincide with scientific accomplishment? Or is the era off the dual player (specifically that of the scholar-hurler) an idealistic concept destined for failure.

It can be no coincidence that Cork hurling’s woes have coincided with a Golden Era for Young Scientists on Leeside. Celtic Crosses aren’t grown in a lab, as the adage goes. While the unholy trinity of video games, social media and the allure of soccer and rugby are often attributed to our underage failings, do questions need to be raised about the distractions offered by education and a reluctance on the part of adolescents in Cork to prioritize Colleges hurling. “You can repeat the Leaving, you can’t repeat the Harty” was once a maxim that reverberated around school corridors, from the North Mon to St. Colman’s in Fermoy. Does such a rationale still exist?

It is a remnant of a bygone age perhaps, but one suspects that the message still rings through in a school such as St. Kieran’s, a hurling sanctuary where the long white coat remains the sole preserve of the umpire. In a county where the immortal kingpin notoriously “doesn’t do tactics”, scientific innovation equates to nothing more than playing a third midfielder or finding the corner back from a puck-out. While Kieran’s have amassed seven of the last ten Dr. Croke Cups, the only recognition our students receive on a national scale is the one lad that manages to get eight A1’s every year after pursuing Classical Studies as an extra-curricular pastime. When all is said and done, what good is 800 points when not one of them is from play?

It could be argued however, that sporting prowess need not be diluted by the threat of academia. It is unlikely that Harvard University take All-Ireland Final hat-tricks into account when awarding their scholarships, which suggests that Clare’s Shane O’Donnell was busying himself with the advancement of science when he wasn’t capitalizing on porous Rebel defenses. Completing his Doctorate in Microbiology, the multi-faceted Clareman unsurprisingly became the sole inhabitant of the Venn Diagram intersection comprising Ivy League alumni and Celtic Cross recipients. Having never won a Young Scientist, O’Donnell’s accomplishments also provide a heartening example to those who may have slipped through the cracks at underage level but still yearn for a crack at senior science.

The nascent development of hurling in Christian Brothers and Rochestown College, schools customarily renowned for the academic performance of their students, indicates that the war is not lost. Similarly, the recent success of Midelton CBS at colleges level has brought their ratio of Harty Cup’s to Young Scientists to a healthy 4:1, a quotient that should be deemed a rule-of-thumb for all Cork schools aiming to strike the balance between fieldwork and lab work. Meanwhile, the progression of the boffins at Coláiste Choilm in this year’s Corn Ui Mhuiri suggests that hurling in the mid-west is at least being suppressed by the more traditional lure of the big ball.

Anthony Daly’s acceptance speech after the 1995 All-Ireland Final referenced a jibe aimed at him by Kieran Delahunty, the Waterford opponent who politely advised that Clare should “stick to the traditional music, boy”. If Patrick Horgan finally climbs the steps of the Hogan Stand this summer, he may be inclined to echo Daly’s iconic retort. We love our science in Cork, but we love our hurling too.

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