Lilywhite nursery Patrician punching above its weight
UNEASY memories were stirred among Kildare supporters as soon as the draw for Sunday's Leinster SFC opener was made.
The Lilywhites dismal recent opening round record has seen them lose five of their last seven championship starts.
Defeat by Louth last summer caused tremors, but they were even more seismic back in 2008, when Mick O'Dwyer's inside knowledge helped Wicklow beat them by four points in Croke Park.
That result weighed heavily on hearts around Newbridge, especially in the Patrician Secondary School, which had been so proud that 11 of their past-pupils were members of Kieran McGeeney's first championship squad that day.
Schools competition plays a seminal role in every young footballer's development and a remarkable number of Kildare's recent seniors have come through the school's corridors, which are situated just a long-range kick away from the county grounds.
Patrician, Newbridge may not be an underage superpower like St Pat's Navan, or have a schools' history like St Mel's or Gormanston, but it still prides itself on being a major football nursery for the county.
The school is only 50-years-old this year, but All Stars Dermot Earley, John Doyle and Peter Kelly are all past-pupils.
Kelly and current Kildare U-21 captain Sean Campbell were midfield on the Patrician team that were just five minutes away from a Leinster 'A' schools final back in 2007.
"We were six points up against St Pat's, Navan," recalled Br Bosco Mulhare.
A Laois native who spent 15 years in Newbridge, he is regarded as one of the driving forces behind the school's football progress.
He actually retired in 1997 and is now based in Tullow, but never misses any of their senior games and has fond memories of the Patricians first serious stirrings back in the early '80s.
He gives much of the credit to the arrival of PE teacher Kevin Kehoe.
"When Kevin moved on to Good Counsel in his native Wexford they had great success too, and he is managing the Wexford U-21s now," he noted.
Br Bosco stressed also that the Patricians benefit from being in the heartland of many clubs.
"Newbridge alone has two big clubs in Moorefield and Sarsfields, and the school also gets players from good rural clubs locally like Suncroft, Allenwood, Milltown, Two Mile House and Athgarvan," he said.
After winning their first Leinster senior ('B') title in 1987, their biggest achievement was an All-Ireland senior 'B' title in 1989 with a team that included Niall Buckley, Anthony Rainbow and Liam Sex.
But, like Kildare county seniors, Patrician Newbridge have had their share of hard-luck and heartbreak since.
They've won two Leinster U-14 'A' titles in recent years with future county seniors like Daryl Flynn, Ross Glavin, James Lonergan and Tom Corley yet a Leinster Senior 'A' title still eludes them.
Kerryman Conor Cunnane now leads the large group of teachers who rotate team managements between them.
Their numbers and expertise were swelled with recent teaching additions like Galway hurler Rory Gantley and Damien Scallan, brother of Wexford hurler Eamonn.
With senior 'A' success still eluding them, the school could have dropped back into Leinster's 'B' championships, but they refuse to do so, putting great store on their 'A' status and the carrot it gives to so many pupils who go on to play for the county.
And Br Bosco is adamant that it is reciprocal, saying: "There's still a lot of football talent around Newbridge and the school helps to harness it.
"They've a very good batch of
U-14s and juniors at the moment, who should come through to the county in the future."