By Kevin Herron
St. Mary’s CBGS principal Siobhan Kelly is delighted that the school will be marking the historic 50th anniversary of the Hogan Cup / O’Keefe success this weekend.
On Sunday 25th April 1971 the Glen Road school defeated Cork based Coláiste Iosagáin, Baile Mhurirne in the final of the Hogan Cup at Croke Park and a week later went onto claim the O’Keefe Cup – defeating Presentation College, Birr back in Dublin HQ to secure an unprecedented All-Ireland schools double.
Given the current Covid restrictions players from both sides will link up on Zoom at the weekend before they hope to be able to honour the memories with a gathering in September as Mrs Kelly explains.
“We’re delighted to mark the occasion, such a sporting achievement; I think it is a very important to reflect on the success of a very talented group of Alumni”
“There are very few teams that can look back through their history and say that they were not both Ulster champions and All-Ireland champions. 1971 was certainly a very memorable year for St. Marys. I am delighted to have the opportunity to meet the players and hear the stories from the day. It is important to keep this history alive for generations to come”.
“It’s certainly worth marking and we’re excited to get talking and reflect on Sunday and to do something more in September when hopefully social distancing will be a bit more relaxed and we’re able to have a bigger, more meaningful celebration. It’s very exciting”.
Mrs Kelly is interested to hear of the experiences of the nine dual players that played their part in both successes on Sunday and is hopeful that similar success could be on the horizon in the future – with St. Mary’s beginning work soon on a new sports facility within its Glen Road site.
“It will be interesting to hear on Sunday of the experiences of the players that lined out in both games” Mrs Kelly admits.
“At that point I’m sure there’s hardly a boy that wouldn’t have had a sliother in their hand in St. Mary’s. Reflecting on the experiences helps encourage young players beginning their journey on the field. We were unfortunate in the Mageean Cup last year and I’m hoping that by reflecting on the experiences from 50 years ago will are not only marking the success but also encouraging even more young Simmarians to line out for our school. No doubt more successes in the future when inter-school competition returns will be on the cards”.
“I know certainly in KS3 we have some very good hurlers, footballers and Gaelic players who can kick a ball and we’re hoping for good things when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. When you think of our new sports facilities and the enhancement this will bring to our already excellent sports facilities there are certainly opportunities and exciting times ahead”.
Reflecting on the era that the success arrived and the backdrop of the troubles in Belfast Mrs Kelly commented on the resilience there would have been within the team and believes that the GAA would have proven to be a good distraction at the time.
“The students across West Belfast would have been very resilient back in 1971” Mrs Kelly believes.
“This was before mobile phones; this is when we had children going out to school and we had some difficult challenges and indeed some suffered tragedies within the local community. These were resilient young men who came to school day-in and day-out, did their training after school, went to training in the dark and in the winter and life went on as normal”.
“You wonder would the generations now have the same, I’m hoping that they would – but certainly those boys during that time stepped up to the plate and did what they needed to do to make the school shine. Sport was huge, it would have been very, very safe to train in the school. It was also a good distraction from what was going on around people”.
“Now-a-days there are so many distractions for young people above and beyond the many sporting extra-curricular activities on offer in St. Mary’s. There are lots of other things to be involved in and there maybe weren’t as many opportunities in those days. That would have enhanced the sport and the number of boys getting involved. I’m hoping that next year when we come back from the Covid lockdown that our current students can get back to the extra-curricular sport they so enjoy. Talking to the boys at lunch-time they are very keen to get going on their training and inter-school competitions especially”.
Mrs Kelly is hopeful that current students at the school will be inspired by reading and looking back on memories of the success and paid tribute to past pupils and staff who contribute to training the future generation currently.
“I know a lot of our boys follow the Irish News, Andersonstown News, read papers, follow social media and St. Marys Facebook and when we produce articles – even articles from a bygone era- they do create a chatter and an interest”
“Pre-Covid during year group assemblies the students thoroughly enjoy presentations from staff who are past pupils on St. Mary’s. Students are always inspired when their teachers share old photographs and say – this is your Irish teacher, this was your maths teacher, this was your science teacher as a player in St. Mary’s. Staff Alumni as especially important and inspire our young men. When students hear that their teacher or a support staff member wore the jersey for St. Mary’s – this is something they can aspire to do. Students often go on to have a conversation with the teacher after class and these conversations encourage them to go to training and get involved. I regularly see our trainers and staff across the school going the extra-mile to help the boys after school and encourage them in their sport. All of that is extremely important”.