ST Mary’s Secondary School in Edenderry have emerged in recent years as a real force in the ultra competitive world of colleges football.
Winners of the All Ireland B title as recently as 2007, the school has pressed ahead since that memorable win over St Eunan’s adding two Leinster A titles ahead of their second appearance in the All Ireland A Final.
One of the men at the forefront of this incredible rise through the ranks is Emmett McDonnell and the Westmeath native will be in charge again in Croke Park this Saturday.
He was also at the helm in 2009 when St Mary’s lost in heartbreaking fashion to Jack O’Connor’s Colaiste na Sceilge. That game was played in Portlaoise but this weekend St Mary’s red and black army will descend on Croke Park for a showdown with Ulster champions St Michael’s from Enniskillen.
The St Mary’s supremo acknowledges that playing in Croke Park will be a big deal for his side but he is keeping them focused on the task at hand.
“It’s the game we want to play, not the occasion It can be very hard to ground young lads but we’re going to have to be grounded because these lads will be going in there looking at what is going on around them off the pitch. We’re going to try and do our homework this week and try and reinforce the point that it’s about the performance rather than just enjoying the experience because we had the experience of an All Ireland Final in 2009 and we don’t want a similar one this time.”
St Mary’s will go into the game with close to a full strength squad although Emmett McDonnell confirmed that Ryan Caffrey is in a race against time to be fit after going off injured just five minutes into the semi-final with St Jarlath’s.
“Ryan has a damaged AC joint so he’s a bit of a doubt. We’re doing a lot of good work with him but he still is a doubt. It can take three to four weeks to get that right. Other than that everyone is in good form and they’re moving well in training.”
In St Mary’s way this Saturday stand Ulster Champions St Michael’s. The Enniskillen school have come through a tough Ulster Final and an even more dramatic semi-final over where an injury-time point secured a win over Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne of Dingle. Emmett McDonnell is well aware of the quality of the opposition and he has his homework done.
“We’ve been talking to Dingle and the Dingle manager maintains their backs are unbelievable He said that while they don’t look spectacular watching them on DVD, it’s only when you play against them that you realise how tenacious they are. He highlighted the Cullen twins so we certainly know what to expect from them.”
While St Michael’s were battling to the final seconds to win their semi-final, St Mary’s had a hugely impressive win over St Jarlath’s in Longford. The Edenderry school’s manager is expecting a game more along the lines of their dramatic Leinster Final when they take to the field on Saturday.
“We felt Colaiste Eoin were a couple of notches ahead of Jarlath’s. No disrespect to them, we just felt Colaiste Eoin were playing at a higher tempo and were playing at a higher level. In saying that we did play well against Jarlath’s but it’s going to be another step up in class for the final.”
A feature for St Mary’s has been the way different players have stepped up the mark when needed in different games. Emmet McDonnell believes this is a real strength of the team
“Thankfully so to be honest. On different days different guys have come to the fore and that’s a real strength of the team compared to the 2009 team where there were two or three individuals who we were really dependent on. This year it’s more evenly spread. Sean Doyle had an excellent semi-final whereas Ruairi McNamee really stood out against Colaiste Eoin. Cian McMonagle was the key forward against Dundalk and Ger Leech has been hitting scores consistently for the last four games. And then in midfield as well the two Daniels have really had a great season and Conor McNamee has done a job as well for us there so there’s plenty of experience.”
Despite the fact that there last appearance in the final was in 2009, Emmett McDonnell outlined that there will be a number of players in the dressing room who experienced first had the defeat that day.
“Philip Foy who is centre-back on the current team got the winning goal against Moate when Anton Sullivan put him through. Conor McNamee and Daniel Grehan were on the panel so they would have been in the dressing room after the game and they would know what that experience is like.”
However the message the manager will be sending to his players is clear.
“This game is nothing to do with 2009. People keep talking to us about that game in 2009. This is a different team with different players. We have no right to go and win this game. Some people seem to think that because we were beaten in 2009, we’re going to win this game but the same thing could happen again. We’re focused on this game, we’re working hard in training and we’re not taking anything for granted.”
Given Emmet McDonnell’s attention to detail and the professional way that football is approached in the Edenderry school, you can be sure that the players and the management will leave no stone unturned in their preparations for their Easter Saturday showdown.