Two down, three to go. So stands the title-chasing schedule at John the Baptist Community School in Hospital, Co. Limerick.
The Limerick school’s senior ladies football team square off against St Ciaran’s Ballygawley in the All-Ireland A final in Mullingar this afternoon. Tomorrow at Semple Stadium, their senior hurlers meet St Mary’s Belfast in the All-Ireland B decider.
Most schools can only dream of being in a position to challenge for two All-Ireland crowns in the space of 24 hours, but such has been the “unprecedented” success enjoyed by the students of John the Baptist in recent times that they are bidding to take home five All-Ireland titles over a three-week period.
With five Munster titles packed into the main cabinet during a pretty hectic couple of weeks across January and February, extra space had to be found when the senior camogie team landed All- Ireland D honours on Monday week last.
Among the scorers in the 3-10 to 1-8 victory over Scoil Mhuire of Trim were the Kennedy sisters from Aherlow, Anna Rose and Caitlin, Andrea O’Sullivan and Eva Butler. All four were back inside the whitewash three days later as the junior ladies football team edged Presentation Tuam by 1-9 to 1-8 in the All-Ireland A semi-final.
That junior final is pencilled in for Sunday week but they’ve plenty to contend with in the meantime. Nine starters from the junior team will feature in today’s senior fixture, while a portion of this group has already celebrated All-Ireland glory this week following Tuesday’s 3-7 to 2-6 junior D camogie win - Scoil Mhuire of Trim again conquered.
Seamus Dollery, who along with Michelle Buckley looks after ladies football in the school, says there are 10 students involved with the football and camogie teams at both junior and senior level.
“It is pretty incredible what these girls have achieved,” Dollery remarked. “Two years ago, we were playing in the Munster senior C championship, so to come from there and now be contesting two All-Ireland A finals is pretty good going. Two years ago, we did win the All-Ireland junior B championship but it was an extremely young side and most of that team make up this year’s junior team.
“We went up junior A for 2015/16 but Loreto Fermoy beat us by 15 points in the Munster final. That told us of the level we needed to get to. “We knew if we could compete with Fermoy this year that we’d have a chance. And we did.”
Such has been their unrelenting schedule in recent months Dollery’s chief concern travelling to Mullingar is fatigue.
“March has been crazy. The girls have been running on pure adrenaline. Last weekend, we had girls playing for Tipperary in the Munster U16 ladies football championship versus Cork. We also had girls out for Limerick in the Munster minor championship versus Clare. The week before that, they were playing camogie with their respective counties. It’s just been non-stop for them.”
Michael Martin, James Devereux and David Balfry are the three teachers overseeing the senior hurlers. Having defeated Rice College, Ennis in the Munster final and The Bish (Galway) in the All-Ireland semi, Balfry says his charges have drawn inspiration from their female counterparts.
“It is great motivation for the lads to return to the school as All-Ireland champions and get the reception the girls have been getting.”
Balfry continued: “We’ve around 1,000 pupils and for the 200 or so first-year students, it is great to think their heroes are in the school. They see these people competing in All-Ireland finals and it is massive for them.
"We’ve had to start being selective about which year groups go to the various games because if we let everyone out for every game there’d have been no teaching done at all for the past two months.
“Five All-Irelands in three weeks is unheard of. There are two in the bag and hopefully, more to come.”
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