Kelly’s Heroes one step from All Ireland glory!

Paddy Drummond Cup final

St. Joseph’s Donnaghmore v Abbey CBS Tipperary

Portglenone’s Niall Kelly and his St. Joseph’s Donnaghmore side are just one step away from All Ireland glory. Standing in their way are Abbey CBS, Tipperary when the sides meet at the Downs in Westmeath on Saturday.

There is a strong Antrim representation on the coaching staff at St. Joseph’s with Niall Kelly assisted by Paul Quinn, a former player with Casement’s Portgtlenone and Sean Turner, a coach with O’Donovan Rossa in Belfast.

The Saffron Gael have had the privilege of covering a number of St. Joseph’s game on their way to a first McLarnon Cup success this year and have been massively impressed by the football the Tyrone college have served up on their way to McLarnon success.

Unfortunately it has been Antrim schools who have felt the brunt of Niall Kelly’s side’s excellent attacking football in the knockout stages and the big man who played his football with Casement’s, Portglenone has his charges in great shape as they prepare to negotiate the final hurdle in what has been a ground breaking season.

Donnaghmore overcame the challenge of St. Mary’s CBGS, Belfast in this year’s McLarnon quarter-final and it was another Antrim school, St. Louis Ballymena who felt the full force of their attacking flair in the semi-final in Slaughtneil.

Rathmore Grammar from Belfast briefly threated to spoil the party for the Tyrone side in the McLarnon final at the ‘Dub’ when they led through an early goal but St. Joseph’s recovered from a slow start to draw level at half time before pulling away to win comfortably in the second half.

The Saffron Gael caught up with Niall Kelly this week and asked him about how he had come to be teaching in St. Joseph’s Donnaghmore, about his route to this weekend’s final and his thoughts on the team and his expectations.

Niall was actually a student at St. Louis, Ballymena, one of the sides that St. Joseph’s beat on their way to McLarnon success.

He told me “I attended St. Louis Grammar, Ballymena before continuing my studies in St Mary’s University College, Belfast. I qualified as a Business Studies Teacher in 2016. My parents own a Mace Shop in Dunloy, where I work most Saturdays, however, with the recent success in school football, I could be close to being replaced. I was involved in coaching the U20’s with our club last year and this year, I am assisting with the U15 team”

I asked Niall about his own playing career and what honours he had won with Portglenone.

“To be honest Paddy I didn’t have the playing career I would have liked. I played with Casements at underage before merging with Stinsons where we won a number of leagues and championships; the highlight was winning the Feile in 2007. With Casements, we won the U21 Championship in 2013 and luckily, I made it back from injury for the Ulster Campaign in Creggan, where we were edged out by a formidable Truagh Gaels. I went on to win several reserve leagues and championships. I was lucky to play with close friends Dermot McAleese and Niall Delargy who are the backbone of our club team. I played for Long Island in New York and Westmeath New York before returning home to complete my teaching degree. After completing the degree, I played in Sydney, Australia for the Cormac McAnallen team, where my time was cut short due to a significant knee injury. Despite numerous physio visits and rehab programmes I was advised there was too much damage done and had to retire from football at 28.

I then asked Niall “How long have you taught at St. Joseph’s Donnaghmore. Had you any previous appointments”?

“When I returned home from Australia in 2018, I took up a teaching post in St Joseph’s Grammar School, Donaghmore and I have been there ever since. The school, also known as ‘The Convent’ overlooks the village and is a fantastic place to work. I currently am Head of Year 10 and I teach Business Studies along with Key Stage 3 PE. The convent was formally an all-girls school, and the first admission of boys was 20 years ago, in 2003. The current Senior Team, who will represent the school on Saturday started in D College football and have won their first ever B College title in the McLarnon Cup a few weeks ago. I am not the only local man on the teaching staff – Paul Quinn is a former Casements player and Sean Turner is an underage coach from Rossa GAA Belfast”.

We went on to talk about the team’s journey to the final. The teams they played and how those games went?

“I suppose the Journey really started last year when we won our first McLarnon Cup Group game and went on to reach the semi-final where we were beaten by the eventual winners, Carrickamacross. We kept most of the panel this year and we could tweak our game plan and use the hurt of coming up short last year to get over the line this year. We started in the group with a difficult away fixture in Bessbrook, then Abbey VS Donegal and St. Pius Magherafelt. There was very little in these games which stood us in good stead for the knockouts. We then faced St Mary’s CBS, St Louis Ballymena and Rathmore Grammar in the final. The final was played in the Dub under lights; there was a fantastic atmosphere and for the first half Rathmore were strong, well drilled and were every bit as good as us. We were fortunate with a few goals, but it must be noted the score line did not reflect the game at all. Finally, we faced the Leinster Champions Ardee CS in Iniskeen on 25th February. They had eased their way through a Leinster Campaign and proved difficult opposition but luckily, we got the goals and the right time and came through on the winning side”

I continued by asking Niall what he knew about Saturday’s opponents,  Abbey CBS Tipperary

“Well, Abbey CBS reached the final of this competition in 2016 and have won three of the last four Munster B titles. Their principal is none other than John Kiely, the Limerick Hurling Manager and coached by Tipperary Star, Conor Sweeney. Their team is littered with Tipperary and Limerick minors and U20’s. We would expect a physically strong, aggressive, and battle-hardened Tipperary Team who don’t know when they are beat, winning all of their games in the last quarter”

We then went on to talk about the St. Joseph’s Donnaghmore side.

Niall Kelly said “We are lucky to have a great bunch of feeder clubs including Donaghmore, Galbally, Carrickmore, Eglish and Dungannon to name but a few. Our Full Back Ben Hughes is with the Tyrone U20’s and Electric Minor All-Star, Joey Clarke and Noah Grimes have been key parts of the Tyrone Minors and Queen’s Future All Stars.

“Who were the players and the people who inspired you when you were growing up”

“First and foremost, my Father Seamus inspired me and my brother to take up football. He would follow all our games and even has ventured to the Donaghmore games recently.

From a playing perspective I was inspired by our club senior team following great club men like Damian O Hagan (Scotchy), Tony Convery, Marty McCarry and Owen Doherty.  

From a coaching perspective many of the men above helped in that capacity too, along with Gerard McAleese and Ciaran Doherty who took us around the country. We are very fortunate in Portglenone as we have countless volunteers and underage coaches in our club and It is going from strength to strength. Regardless of the result on Saturday, I will be out helping with the U15’s come Monday evening”

I think I would speak for all Saffron Gael readers in wishing Niall Kelly and his colleague on the St. Joseph’s Donnaghmore coaching staff all the best on Saturday and from what I have seen of them this year I would expect St. Joseph’s to take the Paddy Drummond back home from Westmeath on Saturday evening.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.