Hurling & Camogie

Excitement building as St Killian's prepare for All-Ireland final shot

The Garron Tower boys face Blackwater Community School in Saturday’s Paddy Buggy Cup final

St Killian's, Garron Tower St Killian's, Garron Tower celebrate January's Mageean Cup victory Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye (Jonathan Porter / Press Eye)

ALL-IRELAND final fever has really caught on in St Killian’s, Garron Tower since they beat Portumna Community School in the Paddy Buggy Cup semi-final on March 2 according to vice-principal Pádraig McIlwaine, who forms the hurling management team alongside Michael McAllister, Paul McDonnell and Declan McKernan.

“There were flags up before Christmas for the Mageean final and they haven’t really come down,’’ says McIlwaine ahead of tomorrow’s final clash against Blackwater Community School, Lismore at Abbottstown.

‘’But you can’t miss the school colours these days. There are flag’s, bunting everywhere. The atmosphere is building and there is just a great buzz around the place, something we haven’t really experienced in the school before.

“Mark Sidebottom is a past pupil and he had the BBC Sports cameraman in during the week doing a few interviews and that also adds to the occasion.”

It’s fully 60 years since the Mageean Cup was taken to Garron Tower. Back then the school name was St MacNissi’s and they lost an All-Ireland semi-final to St Peter’s Wexford.

“I would know a lot of the men who played in that team and they tell great stories about playing in Croke Park that day. This team mightn’t have got the chance to play in Croke Park, but they have really put hurling back on the map in the school.”

McIlwaine appreciates the achievements of the present team more than most as he and Michael McAllister played for the school back in the mid-90s when they lost three Mageean finals in a row.

“Yeah, we lost to St Mary’s and then twice to (St Patrick’s) Maghera. Maghera decided to go for the Croke Cup and, as runners up, we got a chance at an All-Ireland semi-final. But we couldn’t make it count.”

The Oisin’s clubman returned to his alma mater as a teacher in 2001 and he has been involved in preparing hurling teams since.

“A helluva lot of work goes into getting this far in a competition, both on the training pitch and behind the scenes – and the work increases the further you go on – fund-raisers, coffee mornings, quizzes – but it really pulls the school community together.”

The real business is preparing the team to produce the goods on the day, which happened in the Mageean final and again in the recent semi-final. Both were high-scoring games, 0-17 to 0-13 and 4-16 to 2-16 respectively.

“It was the right decision to postpone the Mageean final before Christmas because of the heavy rain. The re-fixture was played on a crisp and cold evening and it allowed for a great game.

“The semi-final a fortnight ago was moved to the 4G pitch in Darver and that made for a fast game too and there was a lot of scores.

“If you look at our scoreline and then the Blackwater v Banagher match in the other semi-final on the same day, the first thing you notice is the difference in scoring (0-11 to 1-4). By all accounts the conditions were terrible for their game.

“But their Munster final against Scariff was a high-scoring affair. You can watch that game on clubber and see that they are a very skilful team and if we get the right weather conditions it should be a very good game of hurling on Saturday.”

The cutting edge of the St Killian’s forward line is captain Joseph McLaughlin and the manager has nothing but praise for the Ruairí Óg teenager.

“What a year he had with the club! He is a very talented hurler, but he really works at his game. He is a great leader in the changing room and out on the training pitch. He is just so mature for a young fellow who is still at school.

“In fairness there are quite a few leaders in the group and they drive training sessions. The standards are very much player-led. There are a few niggling injuries since the semi-final, but we are confident they will all have cleared up for the final.”

McIlwaine’s son Callum is one of the midfielders and the father admits it will add another layer of pride to the achievement if they beat their Waterford opponents on Saturday.

“Look, don’t tell anyone this, but he’s a far better hurler than I ever was and he’s part of a great team. Hopefully they top off a great season by getting their hands on the Cup.”