THE PRESENCE of popular teenager, Joe McColgan, proved the catalyst for a memorable day for St Columb’s College last Wednesday afternoon as they triumphed in the N. Ireland Schools’ Intermediate Cup Final.
SIMON COLLINS reports
The brave 16 year-old Cosquin lad, who was recently diagnosed with Leukaemia, made heroic efforts to attend this year’s showpiece staged in the Ballymena Showgrounds.
Joe, who played a key role on the pitch for St Columb’s Under-16 team en-route to the final, decided to take a well earned break from intensive chemotherapy treatment in Belfast’s City Hospital to surprise his teammates on the sidelines.
And his attendance was hugely appreciated as St. Columb’s produced an inspired performance to out-gun St. Malachy’s College and bring the prestigious trophy back to Derry.
Goals from skipper, Conor Quigley and Ben Doherty, proved enough to secure victory but it was unquestionably the surprise visit of Joe to the St Columb’s dressing room prior to kick-off which put an added spring in the step of the Derry lads.
Team managers, Mark Tracey and James Green, had prepared a motivational video message from absent team members, including Mikhail Kennedy (now with English Championship club, Charlton) and Joe from his hospital bedside.
And when Joe turned up to deliver his own personal message to his team-mates, they responded emphatically.
Under-16 coach, Mr Green claimed his presence gave the players a huge boost. “It was a fantastic occasion for the whole school,” claimed Mr Green.
“But the big thing for everyone was the fact that Joe McColgan managed to be there to see it. It gave the boys a huge boost.
“He was given the okay to come down on the Wednesday morning and it was just a pleasure to see him involved in the celebrations at the end and seeing him lift the trophy.
“That’s what we had hoped for,” he added. “Nobody really expected him to come down. We got some of the boys to film little videos giving their support to the boys and Joe did his from the hospital. But when the boys saw him actually there in Ballymena it gave them a huge lift.
“He definitely motivated us all and the hope is that we can motivate him now in his personal battle. I didn’t get much of a chance to chat with him after the game as it was so chaotic but he seems to be doing well.
“He’s put on a bit of weight which is good and he just seems like the same old Joe to me.”
On the pitch, the Buncrana Road school were determined to spoil the party for St Malachy’s who were seeking to match St. Columb’s historic treble achieved back in 2011 at the same venue. This particular group of players were the Under-14 champions on that occasion.
And the team’s coaches insist they were determined to bring silverware back to the North-West once again, especially given the heartbreak suffered by other Derry schools in the U12 and U14 finals earlier in the day.
“We had talked about the ability of this team but it was the team spirit which shone through on the day,” continued Mr Green.
“This is a great, talented bunch of lads and already we’re looking forward to next year with great excitement. The boys are walking around the corridors 10ft tall at the moment.
“It was just one of those games where everyone pulled together and there was a real team effort.”
St Columb’s had made a nervous start but just before the half hour mark the ball broke to Quigley following a corner and he sent an unstoppable volley into the roof of the net from 15 yards.
And the Derry boys netted that all important second goal seven minutes from time as Eoin McNeill broke down the left side and sent a low cross which the Malachy’s keeper spilled under pressure from Paul Ferris.
And when the ball broke to Ben Doherty he gleefully converted and wheeled away in celebration, revealing a t-shirt with the message ‘Get Well Soon Joe!’ - a fitting end to a special day for the Buncrana Road school.
St Columb’s College - Dillon Doherty; Dean McClafferty. Paddy Slevin, Tiernan Canning, Connor Quigley, Jack Higgins, Steven Duffy, Dillon McClean, Gavin Doherty, Conor Breslin, Ben Doherty Subs - Eoin McNeill, Conor McDermott, Paul Ferris, Declan Harley.