GAA Football

St Mary's spirit, resilience and momentum secures them the ultimate prize

Kevin McKernan shows his unbridled joy on the final whistle

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It was the night before Sigerson weekend 1998, I remember it well.

Adrian McGuckin had called a team meeting in one of the Jordanstown lecture theatres to go through final preparations ahead of our long trek to Tralee the next day.

Spirits were high in the camp as the mood of excitement and endless possibility swelled the room. As the meeting reached its climax the management went through a check list to make sure everything was in order.

Physio. Check. Bus. Check. Footballs. Check. Hotel. Check.

The list went on and on, until Tommy Joe Farrell asked if there was anything else they had forgotten about. There was silence and a long pause before Big Adrian quipped in his deep, dulced Ballinderry accent

"What about the rubbers Tommy Joe? We will need plenty of rubbers."

After the initial shock, the whole room erupted into hysterics - as it wasn't like him to make a joke of that nature or say anything inappropriate.

But once the giddiness had settled down, a perplexed and animated Adrian replied: "Jaysus lads, I mean the masseurs. The bloody masseurs."

Again even more laughter.

The scene had been set for a big weekend in the kingdom.

On paper, we had a very good team that year but nothing in comparison to the hosts and raging hot favourites Tralee IT who were littered with All-Stars and All-Ireland winners such as Padgraig Joyce, Michael Donnellan, Mike Frank Russell, Seamus Moynihan, Jim McGuinness, Barry O'Shea, Bill Kirby and Jack Ferriter.

From the day and hour Adrian had come in he had made his stance clear that he would take 15 grafters ahead of 15 superstars any day of the week.

As it turned out, we had some very good county players but more importantly we had a strong work ethic and a tight bond.

A star studded Tralee beat us in the final 0-10 to 0-8 and as it happened it took luck to shine brightly on their side.

We had led for most of the match and in last play of the game the foot of a post stood between UUJ and that Sigerson title.

Although we came up short, Jordanstown were a tight unit that year with a great team spirit.

I played against St Mary's on a few occasions and always admired the togetherness and spirit that they had both on and off the field. To say that the Ranch were and are a small college punching above it's weight isn't patronising.

It is a fact.

UCD currently have in the region of 30,000 students studying on their campus.

St Mary's have less than a 1,000 with only about one in four of those male.

What Paddy Tally and his team achieved over the weekend past was nothing short of incredible.

With the exceptions of Kevin McKernan, they didn't have what I would call, another properly established inter-county player.

The likes of Cathal McShane, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Conor Meyler, Kieran NcGeary, Conal MCann, and Oisin O'Neill are smashing footballers and potential stars in the making but they could hardly be classified in the same experience category as their UCD counterparts.

Winning a Sigerson title is special but executing it in the manner that they did was something else.

To be hit with a double sucker punch of conceding two goals in the opening stages of both the final and semi-final was horrific.

But the response each time was magnificent as was the performance of Meyler in the final. Since they last won the Sigerson in 1989 St Mary's have rarely matched the big colleges for star names.

But not for the first time, the big establishments failed to match the Ranch for hunger. Each time the underdog, every time they surfaced as a winner.

If I could sum up how they did it in only three words, I would say: spirit, resilience and momentum.

A massive congratulations to all involved in this historic victory for St.Mary's.

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