Navan’s legacy in safe hands

ALL-IRELAND COLLEGES SAFC FINAL

“Perhaps if Leitrim or Carlow were to win the Sam Maguire Cup on as many occasions in the same time span, then we might be talking of acceptable comparisons,” they wrote.

Offering more background to the Navan town school’s sudden and unprecedented glut of success, the reporter explained how things used to be.

“I know of some parents who sent their young boys to other establishments in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s because the Navan school had a hard-earned, but well deserved, reputation for doing little in the way of ~encouraging its students to play Gaelic football.”

Regardless of what happens at Croke Park today in their pursuit of a fourth Hogan Cup title, the St Pat’s legacy is at least now secure. Recently, they collected their 10th Leinster senior title, copper fastening their reputation as the modern giants of the eastern college scene.

The man wrapped up in it all is Meath legend Colm O’Rourke, a former student of the school who would return as a teacher and Gaelic football mentor. The two-time All-Ireland winning forward had done virtually everything in the game by the turn of the century.

But those close to him say that leading St Pat’s to a first ever colleges title in April 2000 — beating a young Armagh side that boasted no less talents than Sean Cavanagh and Ronan Clarke, who combined for their team’s entire 1-6 tally — was celebrated as a crowning moment in his career.

“It was the longest running saga in my career,” admitted O’Rourke of his personal quest for schools silverware.

Introduced to the action with three minutes to go in that 2000 final was a young Joe Sheridan. The following year, he was a central figure in their retention of the cup in one of the classic finals at Croke Park.

Trailing the famous Galway nursery school St Jarlath’s, Tuam by six points, Sheridan inspired a comeback win with a brilliant solo goal. Michael Meehan, Gary Sice and Nicky Joyce were among the broken Tribesmen at full-time.

Upon such famous occasions are legends made and Sheridan, one of many who graduated to full senior inter-county honours with Meath, smiles at the notion that it was once an unfashionable sporting school.

“It’s gas because the amount of lads applying to enrol in Pat’s now because of the history of the football teams is unreal,” said Sheridan.

“It’s no secret that lots of them are attracted by the football and the players and the stories they’ve heard about over the years. If you even look through the Meath side at the minute, there’s a massive percentage of the lads would have gone through Pat’s.

“The likes of myself, my brothers, the Brays, Seamus Kenny, Paddy O’Rourke, Shane O’Rourke, Kevin Reilly. The list goes on like that as far back as you go.”

Location, of course, is everything.

Drawing from the brightest players in the county’s strongest clubs like Navan O’Mahonys, Simonstown Gaels, Walterstown, Skryne, Wolfe Tones and Sheridan’s Seneschalstown, there is a constant supply of elite young footballers waiting to be moulded. Sheridan points to the input of various teachers and mentors but admits that O’Rourke, in reality, is the man who has bound the whole thing together.

“I liked playing for Colm because he enjoyed the craic and he always went out of his way to create a good atmosphere around the place,” said Sheridan.

“He definitely liked to have characters around the squad to keep the spirit of the whole thing up. I imagine it’s the same now with the current team.”

Sheridan is optimistic about their chances today against a St Pat’s, Maghera team partly managed by ex-Derry star Sean Marty Lockhart. Ironically, Lockhart soldiered under O’Rourke himself in the International Rules series for Ireland.

“Eamonn Sheridan is with Pat’s at the moment, he’s a cousin of mine,” said Joe. “There’s a few other lads in there who’d be from the club and the likes of Niall McCabe, Mattie’s young lad. One of the McEntees is there as well. Great Meath football names.

“Rory Ó Coileain, Barry Dardis, these fellas are fine footballers. When you see some of the fellas who aren’t even starting you realise the quality they have. I watched them in the Leinster final. They were maybe lucky enough to win. But with Pat’s, all the way through the years, they seem to struggle early on but as the confidence gets going they start winning games they maybe shouldn’t. They often grow into tournaments and then their reputation starts to kick in a bit.”

There was a time when that reputation counted for little. Not any more.

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