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Irish News CVA: St Joseph's, Derry bear fruit of joined-up thinking

THEY talk about rising tides lifting all boats but in the case of St Joseph’s Boys School in Derry city, they’re heading a fleet of ships that’s pulling Gaelic football back into view on the Foyle.

Based in the west end of the Creggan, they sit snugly in the heart of Séan Dolan’s territory but with the tentacles reaching out to their neighbours Doire Colmcille.

While traditionally the school was predominantly populated by Dolan’s players, there is a healthy sprinkling from Colmcille and a small handful from Steelstown.

Earlier this year they won the Danske Bank Nolan Cup, comfortably overcoming St Patrick’s Bearnageeha in the decider back in March.

It was fitting reward for their efforts and last week they also added The Irish News’ award for Post-Primary School of the Year.

It’s a far cry from when they were struggling to field teams and enjoying a very odd victory just five years ago.

It was no coincidence that both Dolan’s and Colmcille were also struggling at underage level during that time.

But thanks to the combined work of St Joseph’s coaches Darren Currie and Paddy McCourt (a cousin of the Northern Ireland international), the Séan Dolan’s youth officer Brian O’Donnell and Doire Colmcille’s coaches’ co-ordinator Matt Maguire, they have turned all three ships around.

The night before The Irish News’ awards ceremony at the Wellington Park, Dolan’s under-16s came from six points down to beat Banagher in a league game at their Piggery Ridge home.

This is their first time in five years fielding an under-16 team, and their seniors – winners of a Derry junior treble in 2009 - have enjoyed a renewed lease of life since they opened a superb new pitch and clubhouse.

Doire Colmcille have also made strides and have been fielding competitively at underage in recent years, and their seniors have also improved after a few very difficult seasons.

St Joseph’s is playing its part in that and key to it was creating a pathway through the school that included the familiarity of coaches.

“We were looking at the work done in primary schools that’s made a big difference. The problem was that when they came out of primary school, they were giving up the game,” says Currie, a native of Edendork but who has been with Steelstown in the city for 20 years.

“We would have had a lot of what I would call ‘usedies’ – boys that retired at the age of 10, used to play Gaelic football.

“We realised they needed a connection with the coaches that they’d been used to in primary school. You would have Matt and Brian and those familiar faces.

“We invited those guys up to our parents evening for P6 and P7s, and we were taken aback by how many parents and kids knew the two fellas.

“That connection in terms of coming through from primary school, the kids identify with Brian and Matt.

“In the past that when the clubs weren’t functioning, we weren’t getting a player base in the school. We needed to work in partnership with the club.

“We train the players throughout the year and then when it comes to the county competitions, Dolan’s get the benefit of that.

“We had a couple of meetings with Brian O’Donnell and we felt Sean Dolan’s could strengthen through the school.

“We were in the doldrums for a wee while, we hadn’t really won any matches in four or five years.

“Another way we restarted was holding meetings with Doire Colmcille. We were able to share their facilities and they were able to lend us their coach Matt Maguire as well on a Tuesday and Thursday for an entire year.

“That was for anybody that wanted to play Gaelic football. Once we found we were getting 13 or 14 out, that number swole.

“At one stage, we had nearly 30 boys out training at Colmcille’s facilities on a Tuesday and Dolan’s on a Thursday.”

A deal with local fundraising company KlubFunder to supply new kit was a major help. For St Joseph’s, the ultimate ambition is continue strengthening Gaelic games in the city.

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