Sunday 25 September 2016

Underdogs look to end Leinster famine for Marist

Michael Verney

Published 06/02/2016 | 02:30

Fergal Wilson, Westmeath Photo: Sportsfile
Fergal Wilson, Westmeath Photo: Sportsfile

Having honed his craft in Marist College during the 90s, current manager Fergal Wilson knows more than most what victory in today's Leinster schools senior football 'A' final would mean.

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Despite a proud history in the competition, provincial success has eluded the Athlone side. The closest they have come is three final defeats, most recently to Coláiste Eoin two years ago, despite an array of talent coming through their doors.

A host of future sporting heroes were schooled in the Marist including current Irish rugby international Robbie Henshaw, double paralympic gold medallist Mark Rohan as well as a host of football All-Stars.

John Keane, Gary Connaughton and Rory O'Connell, as well as Wilson, all helped Westmeath to their first Leinster senior title in 2004 while numerous players which guided Roscommon's St Brigid's to 2013 club glory excelled there in their formative years.

Wilson returned to the Marist four years ago, as a business/economics teacher, and is joint manager of this year's side alongside long-standing coach John Parker and Eoin Jordan. They have overseen an amazing journey thus far.

"We've been rank outsiders all along and today will be no different," Wilson says. "We just want to go out and perform now and make sure we have no regrets. Our opponents St Benildus College are a formidable team and it's a big ask."

It may seem cliched but the bare facts highlight an underdog story all the way to the final. They stuttered during the League, losing games to schools within the county, and made the decider on the back of scoring just 3-1 in their semi-final.

Good Counsel were raging hot favourites but goals win matches and the underdogs prevailed. Participation in the Connacht Senior Cup on Tuesday presented another challenge while there is also the small matter of Leaving Cert Mock examinations, which commenced earlier this week.

"Results are number one of course, but it'd be nice to have the title here next week too," Wilson says. With added focus on academics, build-up has been low-key. Two years ago Henshaw spoke to the team before the final and organised for Irish team-mate Brian O'Driscoll to send a good luck message but this year preparations are more muted.

Wilson believes the weight of expectation will not affect his side as they look to end the Marist famine, while the U-21 All-Ireland-winner hopes they can give Henshaw a timely boost.

"Robbie represents Marist with honour every time he pulls on an Irish jersey and is a frequent visitor to the school. He is always generous with his time," he says. "It would be great for us to win the Leinster today and give him great inspiration ahead of their clash with Wales tomorrow."

Irish Independent

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