Marist searching for silverware
By Cian O’Connell
One thing is certain: history will be made at Bord Na Mona O’Connor Park on Saturday when either Marist College, Athlone or Naas CBS are crowned Leinster Colleges Senior A champions.
Marist have been beaten in four deciders previously in 1983, 1999, 2014, and 2016, while Naas compete in the provincial showpiece for the first time.
Ultimately it means intrigue surrounds the fixture with Marist joint manager Paul Kelly acknowledging the diligent work being carried out by schools and clubs throughout Leinster.
“I know it is different for every year group, but this will be our third final in the last five years - '14, '16, and obviously this year '18,” Kelly says.
“It is a fantastic competition, a tough competition to win, and hopefully with a bit of luck on our side it could be the year we go that step further.
“We have a big catchment in south Westmeath in the Athlone region. We have all the southern clubs here Castledaly, Athlone, Tubberclair and we would also have St Brigid's from Roscommon, they come into us.
“Our two big clubs would be St Brigid's and Athlone GAA, there would be Garrycastle as well, we would have eight or nine south Westmeath clubs represented.
“We might have one player from some small clubs and obviously St Brigid's would be the main club from Roscommon. If we don't get them from Westmeath St Brigid's would be the main club for us. We have lots of clubs represented.”
Kelly stresses the efforts being made by clubs throughout Westmeath and Roscommon because there is an admirable desire to improve. Westmeath schools have emerged as serious contenders at this level in recent years.
“Yeah, that is true, you can't really argue with that,” Kelly replies. “In Westmeath the colleges you have four in it and Moate were there last year and we have been in three of the last five finals.
“Unfortunately we haven't got that step further, but an awful lot of work has been done inside here in the school and in the region itself with the teachers in each particular school. In the last 10 years every school has really upped their game and it is a very competitive environment.
“We play League and challenge matches and they would be the best challenge matches you'd get because it is a very good standard.
“You can definitely say that, the last team we played, Offaly Colleges and Edenderry is the only college there in A whereas in Westmeath we have four. It is a competitive market and it is good for Westmeath football going forward hopefully.”
Beaten by a Con O’Callaghan inspired Colaiste Eoin in 2014, Marist returned to the provincial showpiece two years later, but were outfoxed by St Benildus.
“We have two lads that were on the panel,” Kelly remarks. “It is a fresh team every year, it is a new challenge every year. You get new lads in, you get plans working hopefully and you try to gel them together. It is good that way.”
Rugby and soccer will always capture interest in the midlands, but Kelly is encouraged about the fact that most of the current players chosen sport is Gaelic Football.
“To be fair the school here is predominantly GAA,” Kelly adds. “We are strong in rugby in the region with Buccaneers, but we have been lucky in the past three or four years that the guys coming in have fantastic clubs behind them like Brigid's and Athlone.
“There has been fantastic work done in them clubs and a lot of the lads have decided that their career will be in GAA by the time they hit 16 or 17 years of age. Maybe back five or 10 years ago there was a lot of them in doubt whether they'd be playing one sport or another.
“When you go across playing two or three types of sports there is a lot of pull from every factor, it is impossible to commit, to get the best out of a young lad. We are very, very lucky that all the teams in the last three or four years with the work being done in the clubs all around south Westmeath, the guys are fully bought into the GAA and that is the path they have chosen.
“Obviously we are a traditional school here in that GAA was always the main sport here. In the last four or five years Buccaneers were getting strong and rugby was getting strong in general, but we haven't had any issues or crossovers.”
Firmly focused on delivering for Marist, another demanding assignment awaits against Naas CBS. It could go the distance.