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Coláiste Mhuire, Ballygar hope to punch above their weight again

Coláiste Mhuire, Ballygar captain, Conor Kelly, is flanked by team coaches Evan Niland, left, and Johnny Waldron, right. 

Coláiste Mhuire, Ballygar captain, Conor Kelly, is flanked by team coaches Evan Niland, left, and Johnny Waldron, right. 

By John Harrington

Galway county star Evan Niland is obsessive about hurling. You don’t become one of the sweetest strikers of a sliotar in the game without that trait.

But even he was taken aback by the pure passion for the game he found in Coláiste Mhuire, Ballygar when he joined the teaching staff there last September and started coaching their hurling teams.

The school draws its hurlers from three clubs. Ballygar itself in Galway, and Four Roads and Athleague over the border in Roscommon.

Three small communities in two different counties united by a shared love of hurling that has now found great expression in this Coláiste Mhuire team that will contest Friday’s Masita GAA All-Ireland Post Primary Schools Michael Cusack Cup Final.

“Where the school is you're in the countryside and it's nearly like going back in time a bit. There's just a lovely innocence about them and they absolutely love hurling," says Niland.

“They're lovely kids, very well behaved, and the whole community is just so supportive of them.

“The Connacht Final was an after school match and there were buses of students who still went to it. You wouldn't see that everywhere, most students would be happy to just go home once school is done.

“But they hung around and waited to go on buses to support the lads and there were loads of families and club members there to support them as well.

“When we got home there were bonfires all through Ballygar to welcome them back. I couldn’t get over it, to be honest.

“It's a great community and it's just something that would really stand out to you. I wasn't in Ballygar in my life before September, but it's just a very special place. They're great people and great kids.”

Th Coláiste Mhuire Ballygar hurlers have gotten great support from the local community. 

Th Coláiste Mhuire Ballygar hurlers have gotten great support from the local community. 

They’re also very handy hurlers too as they showed in the Connacht Final when they defeated St. Joseph’s College by 3-15 to 0-6.

Joey Wallace was main man that day, scoring 3-8, and is flanked in a very dangerous full-forward line by Harry O’Sullivan and Harry Holmes.

Coláiste Mhuire like to get quick ball into that trio as much as possible, and are helped in this endeavour by a great appetite for work in the middle third of the field.

“Their work-rate has been great,” says Niland. “Whenever they've gone behind in matches they've never given up and that's all you want.

“Win or lose you just stay going and these lads have given us everything. That's all you can ask for from young lads. Win or lose you'd be proud of them then.”

You can imagine the buzz amongst a hurling-mad bunch of teenagers when they heard that a county player as highly regarded as Niland was joining the teaching staff.

It’s clear he’s enjoyed the experience of working with them, and, according to fellow coach Johnny Waldron, they’ve soaked up everything he’s had to say to them like sponges.

“They were thrilled, he's been great with them,” says Waldron of Niland’s impact. “He's put a lot of commitment in and he's a lot going on himself with playing with Galway. It's good to have him in and for them to have someone to look up to like that. His attitude rubs off.

“He has the same attitude as them so they were kind of seeing that you should never give in, that kind of stuff. It's great to have him in leading by example and have them looking up to him like that.”

The Coláiste Mhuire, Ballygar U-19 hurlers. 

The Coláiste Mhuire, Ballygar U-19 hurlers. 

Coláiste Mhuire’s progress to Friday’s Final is all the more impressive considering just how small their coeducational school of around 250 pupils is.

There are only five sixth-class pupils on their panel, three of them starters, with the bulk of the team made up of fifth year and transition year students.

They’re up against very strong opposition in the shape of Munster champions Scoil Pól Kilfinane from Limerick, but Niland is hopeful his young charges will rise to the occasion.

“From the start of the year we've just drilled into them that you treat every game as it comes and don't let the occasion get to you because when you're young like that you can over-think it and you can maybe think about what can go wrong,” he says.

“I said to them, look, that's normal if you're questioning yourself before a game, that's ok. Everyone does that, I do that. It's about how you react. Just do something simple and stay in the game. You've done it a thousand times and the occasion is for everyone else.

“This is an All-Ireland Final but for us it has to be just another game. You'll only have regrets if you let it pass you by and don't go for it. If you go for it 100 per cent and work as hard as you can and do it for the man beside you and your school, then you can go home happy and have no regrets.

“That's all we ask of the lads and if they just work hard and do what they've done all year then win, lose, or draw, we'll be proud of them.”

Friday, March 15

Masita GAA All-Ireland Post Primary Schools Michael Cusack Cup Final

Coláiste Mhuire Ballygar v Scoil Pól Kilfinane, Tulla, Clare, 2.30pm

Tickets for the match can be purchased HERE.