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Westport’s trio of soccer stars


TEAM EFFORT Rice College Westport students Adam Nugent, Daniel Kelly and Conor Walsh are pictured with Mr Gearoid Duffy (teacher/coach) and Michael Rabbette (school principal). Pic: Conor McKeown

Three young Mayo soccer players have been picked to represent the Republic of Ireland

Ger Flanagan

HAVING one representative on an international team is a dream come true for any club, school or town. The idea of having three on that same team is as rare as it is wonderful!
So these are indeed wonderful times for Westport United and Rice College Westport as later this month three of their stars will don the Republic of Ireland jersey for an Under-15 international soccer tournament taking place here in Mayo.
Teenagers Daniel Kelly, Conor Walsh and Adam Nugent were all selected as part of the 20-man squad for the three-match tournament at the end of October.
They’ll be following in the footsteps of Peterborough United goalkeeper Conor O’Malley who became the first Rice College student to represent the Republic of Ireland.
Needless to say, they’re the envy of the newly-constructed hallways at the Westport school this weather, like the first born grandchild in a large family. Although the lads themselves are grounded, humble and almost oblivious to the enormity of what they’ve achieved.
“These three have come through the underage ranks in Westport United and it’s a huge credit for the work they put in,” Rice College soccer coach, Gearoid Duffy, told The Mayo News. “The success they’ve had is because of their efforts and their talent.
“It’s a huge achievement to be called up to represent your country. Twenty of them were called up; three from Connacht, three from Westport and three from this school. It means a lot to us and also to the other players in the school who now have something to aim for.”
Second Year student Daniel Kelly and Conor Walsh (Junior Cert’)  are in familiar territory having worn the Irish jersey in the past, but Adam Nugent (Junior Cert’) will be making his debut.
“We were waiting for the email for a long time,” Adam, a talented striker, laughed. “But when we got it we were ecstatic. It was during lunch, so Conor and I ran down to see Daniel and it was a class moment.”
All three learned their trade trade in the underage ranks of Westport United under the tutelage of Joe Kelly and Kieran O’Hora. Nugent was described by the lads as an ‘unbelievable goalscorer’ and stood out for his ‘pace’, while Kelly was ‘the best centre-back in the country at his age’ and goalkeeper Walsh had ‘amazing leadership and shot stopping ability’.
“I remember first playing in goal against Castlebar Celtic when I was 11,” Conor (14) smiled. “The two ‘keepers were injured and that’s how I ended up in goal.
“I played in goal in a few blitzes too. I still have the touch of an outfielder though.”
The trio were also part of the Mayo Kennedy Cup squad who created history this year and qualified for the prestigious final for the first time in history, losing out to DDSL.
Last year they helped Rice College reach the All-Ireland schools semi-final.
However, first and foremost, they’ve next month’s internationals to attend to.
On Thursday, October 17, Republic of Ireland will meet Latvia in Milebush, Castlebar at 3pm and on Monday, October 21 they face Luxembourg at Ballina Town FC at 11am.
But it will be truly special when they tog out in the Irish colours at their home pitch, United Park, to face the Faroe Islands on Saturday, October 19 at 3pm.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” Kelly said. “It’s not something you will ever forget, putting on that jersey. It’s nerve-racking, but more exciting than anything.
“All you want to do is go out there and make your family, your school and your club proud.”
In truth, they have all done that before a ball is even kicked.

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