Hogan Cup final: St Ronan's College out to be history boys
Lurgan school can go to top of the class by landing the All-Ireland senior colleges' title at first attempt
When St Ronan's College, Lurgan step out to face Rice College, Westport in the All-Ireland Colleges' Hogan Cup final today, they will be rewriting the history books.
For a school side that made their debut in the Ulster colleges' sector just three years ago and which did not have a pitch to call their own, St Ronan's have made phenomenal progress.
- Hogan Cup final LIVE: Updates as St Ronan's, Lurgan face Rice College in All Ireland final at Croke Park
And joint-manager David Wilson, whose impact as a player at club level with St Peter's in Lurgan and with Armagh saw him gain considerable status, now believes that St Ronan's can give under-age football in the Orchard County a boost by winning today as well as thrusting the school onto an unimagined sporting pedestal.
"I suppose you could say that we're being seen as the team that have made it into the Hogan Cup final without a grass pitch of their own but on the other hand it could be said that we have lots of pitches because of the support we have received from all the local clubs," said Wilson.
"They have all rolled in behind us and we in turn like to think that we will be striking a big blow for the future of football in Lurgan and indeed in the county by coming out on top."
With Aghaloo man Mickey Donnelly and Annaclone dynamo Collie Fegan alongside him in the management team, Wilson has helped to nurture a side that stormed to their first MacRory Cup triumph last month and now relish the prospect of being crowned All-Ireland Colleges' champions.
In overcoming St Patrick's College, Armagh in the semi-final and then getting the better of St Mary's GS, Magherafelt in the final, St Ronan's underlined in their triumphant MacRory Cup surge that they have truly come of age.
But they face a huge challenge today against a Rice College side that showed considerable staying power and resolve in overcoming Naas CBS by 0-13 to 1-7 in their semi-final.
In skipper Pat Lambert they have an inspirational player - he scored five second-half points against the Naas side - while Keith Joyce is an outstanding full-forward who could pose big problems for the St Ronan's defence, as indeed could Mark Moran and Stephen Loftus.
But while the Lurgan side acknowledge the pedigree of their opponents, they are strongly focused on their own strategy.
"We have players like Aidan Mulholland, Adam Loughran, the McConvilles Ruairi and Eoin, Jamie Haughey and Oisin Smyth who can help to set the tone for our performance," pointed out Wilson.
"The team has grown in confidence but we are certainly not in the least complacent. This is the biggest game in the careers of our players to date."
They may have lived dangerously on occasions during their MacRory Cup campaign but St Ronan's nonetheless revealed the kind of fortitude, spirit and cohesion that can stand them in good stead today.
They will be facing a Westport side that will take huge support to Headquarters and which is already viewed as providing some of Mayo's most promising future talent.
St Ronan's, though, are unlikely to be fazed by their task this afternoon - their steely determination, strong sense of ambition and inherent togetherness could see them scale a new peak at Croke Park.