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Croke Park - A memory for life!

On October 28th, our Boys' Senior Football Team had an experience they'll likely never forget as they took to the hallowed turf of Croke Park to contest the Corn Oideachas Cup final! Our opponents on the day were St. Patrick's National School of Glencullen and both teams served up a great exhibition of skill, determination and fighting spirit! Unfortunately, the result did not go our way as we lost out by the heart-breaking margin of 2 points in a scoreline of 3-4 to 1-8. The boys were understandably really disappointed after the match but we honestly couldn't be any prouder of how they represented the school on the day and how they have applied themselves from the start of the year! After St. Patrick's scored their third goal and it looked like the match was slipping away from us, it would have been so easy for our boys to drop their heads and become overwhelmed by the occasion. But these boys are made of stern stuff and instead, they rallied back and produced their best football when the chips were down! Indeed, if there were only a few more minutes left in the match, we reckon we would probably have went on to win it. But at the end of the day, the big prize was getting the opportunity to play in Croker and I'm so pleased (and relieved) that so many of these great players got the chance to showcase their outstanding talents on the biggest stage! Each and every one of them deserves massive credit and will receive a special mention in this write-up!

I reckon if you had told our goalkeeper Jamie at the start of September that he would be playing in a Cumann na mBunscol final in Croke Park in two months time, he wouldn't have believed you! Jamie is an outstanding soccer goalkeeper but he hadn't played any Gaelic Football at all up until about 7 weeks ago! However, it didn't take him long to adapt to this new sport and he has been superb for us in goals this year! He comes out and attacks the high ball fearlessly but perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game is his shot stopping - he has cat-like reflexes! But for Jamie's heroic second half performance against St. Peter's Apostle, our Gaelic Football season may well have been over by the end of September! We're also very lucky to have a goalkeeper of Jamie's calibre to call on come the school soccer season which I am sure he is very much looking forward to!

At right corner back, Dylan has been fantastic for us. His performances have been made all the more impressive by the fact that he is very new to the sport! Initially, Dylan was only part of the Go Games team, but as soon as we saw his talent in the first match, we knew we had to call him up to the Senior Team. Since then, he never missed a training session and forced his way onto the starting team off the back of a series of strong performances, both in training and in the matches. He is fast, brave, extremely alert and above all, very skillful for someone who has barely played the game. He really does have a natural talent for this sport which is why I really hope that Dylan considers joining Round Towers off the back of this experience. He will certainly be a key player for us this time next year!

At full back, Luke has been an absolute colossus for us! Time and time again, we have had to rely on Luke to make crucial interceptions, last ditch blocks and inspirational clearances! He reads the game so well and seems to have an uncanny ability to always be the first man to latch onto a breaking ball. He is also a very skillful young footballer and his distribution and kick-passing out of defense has been of the highest quality. Luke is a very humble boy and I would point to him as the ultimate example for how one should conduct themselves on and off the pitch! He is a true sportsman who will never sulk when he loses or brag when he wins! Luke absolutely loves his GAA and I have no doubt that he will go on to play at a high level for many years to come. But for now, we are very lucky that he will still be in a Sruleen jersey for next year's campaign!

Divine was at left corner back this year and he has undoubtedly been one of our best players all year! His team-mates would wholeheartedly agree with that assessment! He is a speedy defender and as tenacious a tackler as they come. No corner forward has been able to take him on and get the better of him! But Divine is not just a brilliant defender, he is a very skillful footballer. He has tremendous close control and there is no greater sight to behold than when Divine races out, snaps up a ball at full speed and embarks on a jinking solo run out of defense! I must also mention that a few days after the final, we learned that Divine had actually fractured his wrist in the first half but incredibly he still battled on courageously and somehow still produced a fine performance! WHAT A WARRIOR!! If Divine continues to apply himself with the dedication and determination that he has done this year, I see no reason why he can't go on to play this sport at a high level for many years to come!

Max was our right half back in the final but he has been a very versatile player for us and has been called upon to play in the forwards at times too. If I were to pick out the most impressive aspect of Max's game, it would be his explosive athleticism!! He has bags of talent and while Gaelic Football isn't his main sport, I was very pleased with how Max applied himself in the last few weeks. He has popped up with some lovely scores this year and indeed was very unlucky not to score a sweet point from the sideline against St. Patrick's (when it just hit off the wrong side of the post). Max has a turn of pace that can be absolutely frightening but perhaps it is when he plays soccer that this turn of pace becomes most evident. I am sure he is already looking forward to turning his attention to the soccer season in a few months time and I can't stress enough how lucky we are to have a special talent like Max to call on for that particular sport!

And what can we say about our centre-half back, Sean? His performance in Croker was nothing short of phenomenal!! He fought his heart out from the beginning to end. He's as tough a defender as they come and I honestly lost count of the amount of St. Patrick's attacks that were single-handedly thwarted by Sean! He is blessed with blistering speed and exceptional athleticism but it is his competitive drive that sets him apart. He will not stop running for the cause and he won balls last Friday that he had no right to win but that's what the great players do! There was one inspirational block he made towards the end of the match that will certainly live long in my memory! Sean was devastated after the final but hopefully, now that the dust has settled, he will recognize how brilliant his performance was and be proud of himself! Indeed, he has been a brilliant leader and vice-captain for us all year! He is a wonderful footballer and I am sure he will continue to excel and play at a high level for Round Towers for many years to come!

Alex was the youngest player on our panel and most likely the only 8 year old playing in Croke Park last Friday! But Alex is a prodigious talent and was more than able to mix it with the older boys! He can seemingly run forever and is always in the thick of the action. Indeed, he snapped up a very important ball off the line for us in the second half of the final which kept us in the game. Alex has every attribute required to excel at this sport. He is lightning fast for his age, his soloing is already of a high level, he's brave and his kicking is really accurate. It is scary to think of how good he will be by the time he reaches Sixth Class and the good news is that there is plenty of great talent in that class grouping to join him when that time comes. In my opinion, Alex is destined for greatness in this sport and we are very lucky that he will be wearing a Sruleen jersey for not 1, not 2 but 3 more years!!!

And now to our captain fantastic, Dylan! Dylan has been an exceptional leader for this team! He has set the tone from the very first training session and has set the perfect example to the younger players of how to conduct yourself on and off the pitch. He is totally committed (never misses a training), demands high standards of himself and is always looking to improve his game. Dylan plays the game with a maturity and intelligence that is way beyond his years! He always seems to make the right decision on the ball even when under extreme pressure and he also possesses the skill level and vision required to execute pin-point long range passes. His high-catching this year has also been a joy to watch! Above all, he has an excellent temperament and work ethic. Indeed, he has essentially been the focal point of the whole team! So many of our most telling attacks came through him and he was responsible for multiple turnovers in the final. There is no doubt in my mind that Dylan is going to go far in this sport and we will really miss his wonderful leadership next year!

Zach is quite simply a special player! Talents like Zach don't come around very often so it was a privilege to witness his brilliance throughout the year. Zach just makes the game look so easy! There have been times this year that he has been unplayable - regularly tearing through defenses on powerful solo runs! His high catching has been sublime and some of the long range points he has scored this year (including at Croke Park) have been pure class! He received high praise from journalist, Niall Scully, of 'the Independent' who compared him to Jack McCaffrey (no less) and he was deservedly named 'Man of the Match' at Croke Park! Zach has also been super committed this year and took his leadership role as one of the senior players of the team very seriously. He is the third and last of the Healy brothers to play a final in Croker - they've really spoiled us over the years! (Eoin has played twice and Luke once). I really hope that Zach keeps pushing forward now and joins his brother Luke at Towers because with his talent, there really is no limit to what he can achieve!

Lee Victory is one of the most talented soccer players we have in the whole school and up until around 7 weeks ago, he hadn't played much Gaelic Football at all in his life ( he joined the Senior Team late last year and missed out on most of the matches). However, somehow, his Gaelic Football skill level is really high - It's like he has been playing for years! His catching is so reliable, his ball striking is super accurate and his soloing is pretty much perfect! His decision-making has also really improved in the last few matches and in the all-important semi-final, he was probably our most creative player as he provided the assist for 3 important scores. In the final, I was delighted to see Lee, himself, get on the score sheet with a classy long range point off that cultured left foot of his! I've been really pleased with Lee's attitude this year. He is brilliant at motivating his team-mates and I'm sure he will be really excited once the soccer season comes around!

At centre forward, Leon is as classy a player as they come! His first touch is so sharp, he's fast, elusive and has tremendous close control. He has superb vision and he is so difficult to dispossess due to his keen awareness of what's going on around him on. He can also kick with both feet but is particularly deadly accurate with his right foot. Leon already has every skill in the book but he is still very humble and hard-working and he never shirks responsibility. He always rises to the challenge when the team needs him most as he has proven in the past few matches! Sometimes the special players can provide what we call 'magical moments'! Late in the second half against St. Patrick's, Leon went on a mazy solo run in which he whizzed in between about 4 St. Patrick's defenders before striking the ball straight over the black spot! It was the highlight of the match - a magical moment! You will be hard pressed to find a more beautiful score in Croker this year!

Ollie is the second youngest boy in the team (only turned 9 in April) and he is a player with massive potential! I was absolutely delighted when I heard Ollie joined Round Towers a few months ago and I can already see the rapid progress he is making. Ollie has produced moments of absolutely sublime skill this year! He has been able to chip a ball into his hand while running at full speed, he has scored a point with his left foot from an almost impossible angle and he has also rifled some stunning shots into the top corner for some of our best goals! Ollie's attitude has been excellent. He is very quiet and mannerly but he is also very driven and ambitious! I am confident that he will be determined to keep working hard on improving his game over the next 12 months. Ollie has 'star quality' and there is no doubt he will be one of our star players next year!

To say that Nathan is passionate about his GAA would be an understatement! From the very first training session, he has probably been our most enthusiastic player! But Nathan is also a really tough competitor and is very strong for his age! In fact, that was the most pleasing aspect of Nathan's performance in Croker - He seemed to really rise to the occasion and competed really hard. He got absolutely stuck in! Nathan is a really versatile player and has been a strong option for us in both defense and attack. He's also a superb tackler and really accurate kicker! I must say that he has also been really helpful this year by volunteering to bring the footballs in after training sessions! Thankfully, Nathan is still only in Fourth Class and I am sure he will be a very important player for us in the next two years!

Jake O'Rourke is yet another one of our Sixth Class soccer stars who turned his focus to Gaelic Football for the last two months with very successful results! He is a highly intelligent player who is very comfortable on the ball. He rarely gives away possession and if you give him a chance in front of goals, he will surely take it! Jake possesses a sweet strike of a football and his best position is probably wing forward where he has produced some monster long range points for us this year! However, he has also spent time in at full forward and defense and he has always given us 100% regardless of whatever position he is told to play. Jake has always had such a good attitude at training and I have no doubt that he is already looking forward to the soccer season now! He will have an important contribution to make to that team too!

Evan rounds off the starting team that lined out at Croke Park and what a crafty corner forward he is! Evan doesn't play GAA for a club but he worked his way into the team through sheer hard work and determination. He is a very clever player who has a great intuition for placing himself in the right place at the right time. There is no better man to pounce on a rebound than Evan! Evan also possesses a beautifully deceptive side-step which has fooled many a corner back this year! Evan also scored a great point in Croker when he leapt up above a bunch of much taller lads to fist Dylan's free over the bar! Evan is really talented and I really hope he considers joining a GAA club after Christmas because he really seems to have enjoyed this experience and he has so much natural ability!

Luca deserves a huge amount of credit for stepping into goals in the semi-final to replace the injured Jamie at such short notice. He produced a great performance on the day and indeed saved a crucial one on the line in the second half when the game was in the balance. However, Luca is versatile and has played very well in a number of different positions this year. He has a powerful strike of a ball, a safe pair of hands and is a very accurate kicker. Luca is also very encouraging to his fellow team-mates and treats everyone with respect. He is also always willing to help out. Once, I remember he stayed back for about 20 minutes after training to help one of the other players find his bag. This is the sort of decency which is always so heart-warming to see from someone so young! Luca will be an important player and role model for us next year!

Aaron is another player who has spent some time in defense, attack and in goals and I have to say that in the past two months, he has made great strides forward! He has a brilliant attitude and has been very dedicated to improving his game. Aaron has a good, solid, safe pair of hands and the accuracy of his kicking has improved a great deal too. He is a very intelligent and unselfish player who always looks to make the quick pass to a team-mate in a better position. Indeed, it was Aaron who provided Leon with the all-important assist for the goal that ultimately ended up sending us to Croker in the semi-final! Aaron is also an absolute gentleman who always volunteers to help bring in the balls and bibs after training. I have a feeling that Aaron has caught the GAA bug now and I am delighted to hear that he has been really enjoying his football for Towers too. Long may that continue!

Sean McDermot (also known as 'Sean the Shark' to his fans) has really put in a brilliant effort this year. He is a proper battler, always gets stuck in and will never shy away from a tackle! But he has got the skills too. He is a natural catcher and has probably mastered the pick-up better than any of our other non-club players! I hope that Sean has gained confidence from the experience of these past two months, because I believe that he has the potential to be one of our main men this time next year year if he continues to work hard on his game. Sean is an ambitious sportsman! He is an excellent soccer player and in 10 years from now, he's also going to be Ireland's first ever World Darts Champion! You heard it here first, folks!!

If I were to point to one player from the squad as an example of what you can achieve if you stay resilient and keep believing in yourself, it would have to be Michael. Michael initially struggled to get to grips with the skills of Gaelic football. There have been a few matches this year where Michael didn't get any game time at all! But Michael never sulked or complained. He just kept his head down, stayed positive and worked hard on trying to improve and thankfully, it all started to click for him in the last few weeks. Michael is a powerful athlete with incredible speed, strength and endurance. Once his fundamental Gaelic Football skills started to improve, he became the perfect candidate to be the man-marker of St. Patrick's best player in the final and what a great job he did! He made numerous important tackles and interceptions and I know his contribution was very much appreciated by his team-mates!

A really lovely piece of history was also made last Friday as Jack Costello became the Third Generation in his family to play a Cumann na mBunscol final in Croke Park. His Grandfather Frank won the Gold Medal in 1965 for De La Salle of BallyFermot while his father, Brian, won the Silver Medal in 1993 and Gold Medal in 1994 for Clonburris. It is fantastic to see the passion for the GAA being passed down from generation to generation at our school and Jack certainly has plenty of passion for this sport! Jack is a very versatile player but he plays his best when he is in the full forward line. He has a keen eye for goal and always takes up clever positions when team-mates are running through. Jack is so respectful and enthusiastic and brings so much positivity to our training sessions. He will be an important role model for the younger players next year!

Jake is in Fourth Class now but I firmly believe that by the time he reaches Sixth Class, he will be in one of the key central positions on our Senior Team. First of all, Jake is a little speedster. Secondly, he is a fearless and fierce competitor. And thirdly, he is a club player who can only go from strength to strength over the next two years. Jake has done great for the senior team whenever he has been called upon this year. He never shies away from the action and is a great winner of primary possession. It seems like this has been a really exciting experience for Jake and I hope it makes him hungry for more. He is a leader in the making! Here is a fun fact : Jake and Amelia are the only brother and sister in our school's history who have both managed to play a final in Croke Park for the school by the time they reached Fourth Class. Not bad going at all!

Lee Kenna may be our smallest player in stature but he has a huge heart and he seemed to absolutely relish playing on the biggest stage! Sending him out onto the pitch last Friday was like letting a greyhound loose after a rabbit! He zipped around the pitch desperate to make an impact and indeed he got on the ball plenty of times! He was actually unlucky not to score on a few occasions but he was putting himself in the right positions and that's the main thing. Lee is a very skillful and determined young footballer. He reminds me of his sister Kayla (ex pupil)in that regard who I am delighted to hear is still playing fantastic stuff for Towers. Lee also plays for Towers and I fully expect him to be a really important player for us in the next two years!

Last but certainly by no means

least is Robert. Robert is a strong, determined young player. He can play in defense or attack or even in goals if he has to (although I don't think he is too fond of being in goals, to be honest)! Robert is a whole-hearted player who is all passion. He always tries to play from the front and attack the ball. His ball winning skills are really good so I am already imagining him as a potential target man for next year but sure we will cross that bridge when we come to it! Robert missed the quarter-final and semi-final so I was really relieved that he got to play in the final because he has trained so hard and really deserved to have the opportunity to play in Croker. Hopefully, he will keep working on his skills and be ready to come out firing on all cylinders when it starts all over again next September!

So as I come to a close, I just want to take this opportunity to thank all the parents and grandparents for your support and patience throughout the year. I understand that it disrupts family schedules when there are so many matches and training sessions after school hours so I appreciate that you were all willing to accommodate us. Hopefully, the day out in Croker made it all worth it!

The main reason we do this training is to instill a love for the sport in the children so that they will feel inspired to play for many years to come as sport can be a really healthy outlet for boys and girls, especially as they move into their teenage years and on towards early adulthood. I will certainly be keeping an eye out to see how the sixth class boys and girls are getting on with their respective clubs once they leave the school. It is really heartening to see that so many of them are already playing for the local club!

Win or lose the final, these days out in Croke Park provide the players and families with memories for life! But the truth is, schools don't reach finals in Croke Park without having at least 7 or 8 strong club players like we had this year. We have some exceptional talent in our younger classes but unfortunately not many club players so I hope the experience of seeing our Senior Team representing the school in Croker will inspire the younger boys and girls to join Round Towers (or whichever club is closest to them).

I want to thank Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Scott for all their help this year. Mr. Stevenson is the one who takes all the phone calls ,arranges all the times of the matches and does a huge amount of organizing behind the scenes! Mr. Scott has been in charge of the Go Games team and also gave me a lot of help with the senior training. He introduced some great new drills into the training sessions and I think the boys really enjoyed them. And finally, Mr. Kelly was really supportive to all our teams this year. He barely missed a match and was very proud of how our brilliant Senior Teams represented the school this year. Mr. Kelly is passionate about promoting sport at our school! I hope you all keep an eye out on the blog because we will post some more photos from the final soon. I also recommend that you look at which has a flickr page that should have photos up of the final soon!

Finally, I just want to express our congratulations to St. Patrick's National School. It was a very even game between two super teams and it could have gone either way but it has to be said that your boys defended exceptionally well when they had to in the second half! They are a fine bunch of footballers with bright futures ahead of them. It is a great achievement for your school and well deserved!


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