St Francis College Rochestown in Cork will look to cap a season to remember as they take on Mayo’s Rice College in the All-Ireland final today — the Dr Tony O’Neill Senior National Cup final (U19).
Bank of Ireland Senior Schools Dr Tony O’Neill National Cup Final
Rochestown College (Cork) v Rice College (Westport)
Home Farm (Whitehall, Dublin), 1pm.
It’s the cherry on top of a season that’s brought success at first year and U17 level also. No surprise when you look at the background, though.
“We’re lucky with our catchment area in that it’s pretty strong for soccer,” says Rochestown teacher Eoin O’Flaherty, one of the senior coaches.
“We’re drawing from College Corinthians, Douglas, Carrigaline, Passage, all clubs which are very strong at schoolboy level.
“When you’ve a combination of kids coming from those clubs you’ve got every chance of having strong teams, and that’s what’s happening.
“It works well — obviously you have some years which are stronger than others, but we happen to be lucky at the moment, we have some very strong teams at present.”
Their senior progress was incremental.
O’Flaherty can point to the significance of the victories along the way: “We played Blarney early on in the competition, and that was probably a breakthrough game. We won 3-1 that day and they would have been fancied to do well in the competition.
"We went on and beat Ballincollig, another good side, and Pres, which was the big one. We were a goal down against Pres with about five minutes left, but we came back and beat them 2-1.
"After that we beat Nenagh in the Munster final, which got us through to the All-Ireland series.”
To qualify for today’s final they had to overcome St. Aidan’s CBS of Whitehall.
“That was another tough one, but we managed the win, 1-0. I think the Pres game was the defining one, though — they were the reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions, so they were the benchmark.
"If you can beat a team like that then you have to believe your own team have a chance of doing well.”
‘Resilient’ is Flaherty’s description of his own side when he’s pressed for a thumbnail sketch.
“That’s the best way to put it — the attitude they have is outstanding, they don’t shout or lose the head, in every game they get on with it rather than getting excited. The players are very hardworking, which is always a plus.”
Rochestown have impressed in other sports in recent years, including an impressive run to the Munster finals in Gaelic football and hurling. There’s a lot of coordination needed.
“It takes a lot of time management and cooperation, obviously. We have football and hurling teams, and there are other soccer teams obviously, so we as teachers have to row in together to make it work.
“In fairness, we all get on well and work well together. You’ve got to take into consideration whether players are in an exam year, for instance, and make sure they’re not too tired by their commitments.
“As teachers and coaches we have a very good relationship with each other, across all sports, and that makes it easier.
“It wouldn’t work if someone was acting up, plus the lads are all training and playing matches with their clubs when they leave here, so we have to be cognisant of that also.”
They’re up against Rice College of Westport today, but Rochestown are more interested in getting the most out of themselves than obsessing about opponents.
“We don’t focus that much on the opposition, we tend to pay attention to ourselves,” says O’Flaherty.
“We look online to see how our opponents have done in previous games, there wouldn’t be a lot of video available at this level you can watch — if I know somebody involved in a team they’ve played I’ll give them a ring, but in general it’s about getting ourselves right.
“The buzz in the school helps. Everyone in the school was nervous about the semi-final, but we’re all looking forward to the final now.
"There are about 150 supporters coming up for the game and the first years in particular are anticipating it — they’re just asking if we’ll win, really. That’s all they want to know.”
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