Monday 19 February 2018

Sparkling jewels in Summerhill's latest crown

Summerhill College players in jubilant mood after winning the All Ireland Senior Schools soccer championship for the second year in a row at Maginn Park, Buncrana. Photo: Brenda McCallion
Summerhill College players in jubilant mood after winning the All Ireland Senior Schools soccer championship for the second year in a row at Maginn Park, Buncrana. Photo: Brenda McCallion

In the neat hospitality room at the welcoming Maginn Park soccer ground in Buncrana there's a framed poster advertising a famous charity soccer match.

The big event took place in the early 1960s and attracted some famous names from the world of soccer and entertainment.

Among those taking part were Con Martin, Noel Cantwell, Neil Franklin, Charlie Tully, Tommy Doherty, Malcolm Allison, Peter Farrell and Sligo's own Sean Fallon - all giants of the game in their time.

I don't suppose the Donegal venue ever hosted such an array of talent before or since.

But those lucky enough to witness last Wednesday's epic All-Ireland schools final must have been tempted to indulge the notion that they were watching a new generation of superstars.

Summerhill won a pulsating match 3-2 after extra time.

The transition from schoolboy football to the senior professional ranks is a journey fraught with hazards and only the exceptionally gifted or extremely fortunate see it through to glorious completion.

So maybe last week's compelling decider between Summerhill and Scoil Mhuire, Buncrana, was a tantalising glimpse of potential rather than certainty.

More than likely, the ebb and flow of life will take the talented young footballers to a range of other pursuits and professions in later life.

But, with a little luck, careful guidance and rigid application, there are quite a few of these young lads who could make the grade, at least at League of Ireland level, if not higher.

The game, a gripping battle for supremacy from start to finish, showcased all that is good about schoolboys' football.

Far removed from the cynical and over-complicated strategies which often contaminate soccer at the highest level, this was an exhibition of the noble qualities of the beautiful game.

Two teams going hammer and tongs in pursuit of the big prize, pushing themselves to the limit of endurance without once resorting to anything sinister or unsporting.

Fit, energetic, imaginative, Summerhill and Scoil Mhuire served up a footballing treat.

Clearly well-coached and prepared by their respective coaches and teachers, the two teams were models of genuine quality - individually and collectively.

Buncrana's centre-back and captain, Peter Doherty, wore Petr Cech style protective headgear, but that wasn't the only reason he stood out.

He was like a human magnet. Every time the call came out of the air, it seemed to be automatically attracted to the big defender.

The Ulster champions also had a real gem in centre-forward, Georgie Kelly.

His strength in the air and deft touch on the ground marked him out as one of the game's outstanding personalities.

I'm told he's already on Derry City's books.

Buncrana's midfielder, Ryan Varma, who boasted a great delivery from set pieces, was another who caught the eye.

There were many sparkling jewels in the Summerhill team as well.

Goalkeeper, Ryan Blake, made a number of outstanding saves. His decision making was first class and his confidence to pluck dangerous crosses out of the sky alleviated quite a few tricky situations.

The full-backs, Kyle Harrigan and Dylan Conboy were assured throughout, offering vigilant cover for a resolute defensive partnership of Brian Glennon, the team captain, and Stephen Kerins.

Brian and Stephen got on the scoresheet as well, which demonstated to telling effect their threat in the opposing penalty area, apart from their ability to look after the shop at their own end.

I overheard a Buncrana supporter remarking that there was a 'touch of Roy Keane'' about Summerhill midfielder, Ryan McManus.

No need for elaboration there.

Mark McCallion's delicate touch, clever use of possession and selfless workrate contributed handsomely to Summerhill's overall dominance at midfield. It was the type of contest where graft mattered as much as craft.

But craft was a quality which was in generous supply - and was most breathtakingly dsplayed by Summerhill duo, Gary Armstrong and Darren Kilcawley.

If young McManus reminded one spectator of Roy Keane, the gifted Armstrong is in the Mark Quigley mould, except that he puts in a better all round shift.

There was a buzz of anticipation every time he got on the ball - and he rarely disappointed.

Gary is a grandson of the legendary Johnny Armstrong, so he didn't take the talent from the wind. His late Granddad would have been a very proud man if he'd been in Maginn Park last Wednesday.

Kilcawley is a different type of player but also has something about him that sets him apart.

His slight frame disguises a warrior-like competitor. And he has the gift of skipping past opponents as if they weren't there.

Even in the most congested areas, he found time and space to effect the flow of the game.

His mesmerising run which led to Summerhill's second goal was the stuff of sheer class.

Up front, Darragh O'Brien and Malachy Spratt were unsparing and effective.

And when tiring limbs necessitated a change of personnel, talented subs, Kyle Cawley, Darragh Gaule and Brian McGowan, stepped up to the plate to make important contributions to a famous win.

It was Summerhill's second All-Ireland title in a row.

Future stars there for Sligo Rovers, surely.

Sligo Champion

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