WHEN the young footballers of St Gerald’s College journeyed to Ballinrobe on Saturday last they were eye-balling tradition. The weight of history awaited them.
St Jarlath’s have been down this road more often than any other college in the province. St Gerald’s came in search of their fifth title.
A glance beforehand over the match programme was another reminder (as if we need many more bloody reminders) that the times they are a changin’. The St Jarlath’s College dormitories are closed and silent at night now and there’s no longer a pillow in the Tuam academy for a promising Mayo minor to rest his head on.
Time was when a St Jarlath’s sheet was inked with players’ names drawn from clubs along the western seaboard. It now teams players from within the North Galway football wells of Kilconly, Corofin, Tuam Stars, Killererin, Dunmore and Cortoon.
The occasion had all the trappings of a Connacht Colleges Final.
Supporters arrived on coaches bedecked in their school colours. They were in fine voice too. Songs and chants and dirges to honour the players they’d pinned their hopes and dreams on. A mother arriving and she holding a little memoriam card in her pocket. A little prompt to her mother in Heaven to see a son and grandson safely through the rite of passage of his first colleges final.
A huge crowd gathered in Ballinrobe on Saturday afternoon. If they came to see a classic they left empty-handed. In truth the game never fired. We were denied an exhibition of the free flowing fare we normally associate and indeed have come to expect from this grade.
Be it stage fright, the fear of losing, or just good old-fashioned nerves something kicked in that deemed this game well below average and seldom reaching even mediocre. To essay it otherwise would be a distortion of the facts. St Jarlath’s overall return of 1-4 speaks for itself. Time was when a Purcell, a Fallon, a Donnellan or Joyce would have amassed that and more as a personal tally.
A biting east wind blew in over Cregduff and pierced Arctic-like straight down the pitch. It had purchase too and Gerald’s had first use of it. They over-elaborated and complicated what should have been a simple approach. They were guilty of some woeful inaccuracy. If they displayed similar exactitude in a darts match they’d have cleared a pub faster than any garda on patrol.
Turning over with a slender one-point lead, and facing the elements, seemed a big ask. But they dug deep and, what their endeavours lacked in finesse and panache, they more than compensated for with honest endeavour. James Durcan did more than most for the school cause.
They took the game by the scruff of the neck when St Jarlath’s midfielder Dara Walsh was dismissed for a second yellow. From this remove his dismissal seemed harsh and it had a bearing on the eventual outcome. On a day when simple scoring opportunities seemed impossible to convert, St Gerald’s steadied enough to post the winning brace.
They’d outweighed tradition and the day was theirs. The supporters sang the praises of Mark McHugh and they chanted loudly while flanking a guard of honour for their heroes leaving the pitch. It’s a school day they’ll remember forever even though they weren’t at school.
But more homework awaits them before they board the bus again.
ST Gerald’s, Castlebar will take on the Ulster champions (St Paul’s, Bessbrook or St Pat’s, Maghera) in the All-Ireland Colleges Senior ‘A’ FC semi-final on Saturday, March 30.