Westport school out to make history
Rice College aiming to bring Hogan glory to Mayo but Ronan’s will provide stiff test
When Rice College made history and secured the first Connacht Senior 'A' football title, almost the first order of business was to check in on one of their own.
They had just broken new ground and wrote a new chapter in the history of Rice College and they most fitting way to mark the occasion was to check in on joint manager Martin Connolly after he had taken ill in the build-up to the match.
It seemed like the right thing to do. As Connolly's managerial partner Shane Conway pointed out in an interview last month, "Connolly is the reason Rice College play Gaelic football in the school,"
The school and town has a proud tradition in many sports down through the years with a strong rugby club in the Westport Bulls, who feed into the Connacht academy, and a considerable soccer influence too with the school competing in an All-Ireland final last year.
But they have produced many fine footballers down through the years. Former Footballer of the Year Lee Keegan is a past pupil. Jason Doherty also attended the school at the same time while another Mayo player Kevin Keane has helped out on the line this season.
But, by dint of their achievements, this is the best team the school have produced.
And they seem to be getting better.
They lost the Connacht senior league decider to St Attracta's but were able to see off the same opposition in the championship decider despite it being their fourth final in five years.
They didn't stop there. Leinster champions Naas CBS were the opposition in the All-Ireland semi-final. There was only a goal in it at the end by the Westport side held on and booked their place in a Hogan Cup decider, with captain Pat Lambert top-scoring with 0-5.
It's the latest achievement for a town that is gaining a happy knack of winning big titles. The Westport club claimed All-Ireland club IFC honours last year and they have been winning plenty at underage level in Mayo over the last number of years, including an U-21 title.
The club are aware they have a gifted crop coming through and have appointed former Mayo manager James Horan as the man to development their talents as they look for success at the senior grade. Westport provide the bulk of the team - 11 of the starting side in the All-Ireland semi-final are from the club - but Burrishoole and Kilmeena are represented too.
The odds are against them continuing their journey. A Connacht school hasn't claimed the Hogan Cup title since Galway powerhouse St Jarlath's won their last crown in 2002. A Mayo school hasn't claimed colleges football's blue riband title since St Colman's Claremorris back in 1977.
Whatever happens today, a new name will be etched on the famous trophy. St Ronan's are a new outfit after the amalgamation of three schools in Lurgan three years ago and they also made history when calming the MacRory Cup for the first time earlier this year before going on to beat an Eamonn Fitzmaurice-managed Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne.
The winds of change have been blowing through the schools game for some time now. And that only looks set to continue when the sides clash in Croke Park.