Saturday was a day of special celebration for a group of teachers and students from Rice College in Westport, Co Mayo, after its Senior Boys' team scooped team gold in the Aviva Irish Schools Cross-Country Championships at CIT, Cork, the first time a Connacht college has achieved this honour.
There was further good fortune when the Junior Boys' team combined to win silver in their event.
David Harper led the Rice College Senior Boys' to victory – running a steady and determined race to claim the individual bronze medal behind Andrew Coscoran and Aaron Hanlon of St Mary's Drogheda, who won gold and silver respectively. Harper proved to be a model of consistency and reliability as he led his team-mates to victory.
Con Doherty delivered a storming performance to hold down sixth position and Aichlinn O'Reilly finished 20th. Sean Flynn in 55th place played a pivotal role in ensuring gold medal team success for Rice College as fourth scorer. Other members of the winning team were: Joe Hastings, Diarmuid McNulty, Eoin Long and Jack Cashman.
Teachers Padraig Hughes and Brian McManamon were in high spirits as they savoured this sweet success but were quick to point out that the man central to making the dream a reality was colleague Fergal Macken, who was at home nursing an injured knee. Another teacher Pat McNamara also helped.
Kilmaine native Macken teaches geography and history at Rice College and over the past decade has been largely responsible for the great revival in athletics at the school.
Fergal and his teaching team have been greatly encouraged too in their efforts by principal Michael Rabbette and they have been fortunate to have, at the moment, a group of young athletes who are all willing to work hard together to achieve a common goal.
Team leader Harper, coached by Dermot McDermott, has already made his mark on the Irish junior athletics scene and Con Doherty is now one of the best young triathletes at world level. Aichlinn O'Reilly is a member of the Triathlon Ireland Junior Development squad and Sean Flynn has shown great aptitude for the triathlon.
Joe Hastings is also a top-level golfer and he was a member of the college team that won last year's All Ireland Schools' Golf Championship.
The Junior Boys' team, led by Aaron Doherty in seventh place, also had good reason to celebrate on Saturday. Cian McAllister followed Doherty home in 23rd position, Robbie Harper finished 26th and Eoin McLoughlin was 68th. Other members of the team were Alex Ó Riain, Michael Brady and Andrew Currid. Two of the scoring team, Aaron Doherty and Robbie Harper, have older brothers who scored on the Rice College Senior Boys' team.
This was an inspirational and historic day for schools athletics in Connacht and the Rice College team management and members are very grateful for the support they have received from local businesses: Portwest; Allergan Pharmaceutacals; Alter Ego Beauty Salon; and Ger McNulty. Westport Athletic Club members and coaches are singled out for special thanks by Macken, who also points out that the input from parents has been a significant factor in their success.
Macken injured his knee in February while out running and it is taking time to heal. He pays special tribute to his 'super sub' and teaching colleague McManamon, who has filled in for him since.
This was a team success at many levels; success for a team of dedicated teachers working in unison to encourage, cajole and inspire their young students to be the best that they can be.