ST. COLUMB’S College U-14 squad completed what has been a truly remarkable season when clinching the British Isles Championship for the first time at the University of Glamorgan Playing Fields in Cardiff last Sunday.
This was a significant achievement for the Buncrana Road school considering the quantity and quality of the schools who have competed in schools football competitions in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland this year.
St Columb’s qualified for the Championships as Northern Ireland representatives having defeated St Malachy’s, Belfast 1-0 in the N.I. Schools Cup Final in Ballymena Showgrounds last April following six knock-out matches.
The local school found themselves drawn against tough opposition in the form of Welsh champions, Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen from Caernarfon and the Scottish champions, Musselburgh Grammar School in the group stages.
The College started the tournament on Friday evening against the Welsh champions in dynamic fashion with team captain Mikhail Kennedy opening the scoring.
However, the Welsh team responded and went on to lead the match 2-1. Ben Doherty then equalised with a superb late free-kick to send it to penalties (There was no extra-time played in this weekend competition).
In a dramatic penalty shoot-out, young goalkeeper Dylan Doherty, still under-age next year, emerged as the hero. He stepped up to score St.Columb’s ninth penalty, then stepped back into goals to save the next kick which gave St.Columb’s victory and two out of the three points.
On Saturday morning, amidst torrential rain, St.Columb’s completely out-played the fancied Scottish team from Musselburgh.
The Scottish champions had comprehensively defeated the English champions from Surrey the evening before, and because of the age difference in Scottish schools, were also, on average, six months older.
However, striker Eoin McNeill opened the scoring with a neat finish from a slick move involving Conor Quigley, Jack Higgins and Ben Doherty.
Mikael Kennedy then scored the goal of the tournament, collecting a ball on the right flank 15 metres inside his own half. He proceeded to take on and beat four Scottish defenders with superb pace and skill before maintaining his composure to slide the ball past the goalkeeper at his near post.
Lively winger, Stephen Duffy showed his alertness to finish a spill from the Scottish goalkeeper to the net for the third.St. Columb’s kept Musselburgh at bay for 15 minutes before Mikael Kennedy fired a corner straight at the keeper and he couldn’t keep it out of the net.
St.Columb’s conceded a late goal to leave the final score 4-1.
St.Columb’s therefore finished the group stages with five points, with one straight victory and one victory on penalties.
Welsh runners-up Pentrehafod High School, who qualified after straight victories over The Republic of Ireland champions, St.Joseph’s Rochfortbridge, County Westmeath and English champions, Richard Challenor High School.
In the final, St.Columb’s were certainly the dominant team and after hitting the woodwork twice, midfielder Jack Higgins scored a looping header from a corner to open the scoring.
Pentrehafod hit the woodwork themselves from a free-kick and then St.Columb’s Higgins struck the crossbar once again and McNeill the post.
St.Columb’s went in at half-time with a somewhat precarious 1-0 lead. However Jack Higgins stepped up to score his second after a goalmouth scramble in the second half and this proved ultimately to be the winning goal.
The Welsh side did make a game of with an excellent goal to make it 2-1, but the College held out for the last ten minutes to record an historic victory.
The College become the fourth name on the cup run by SAFIB (Schools Association Football International Board, the first from an Irish team.
During his presentation, SAFIB chairman, Stewart Taylor named two of the outstanding players in the competition. One of those was team captain, Mikael Kennedy (Pictured) and he is, indeed, an exceptional talent.
Well done also to mentors Mark Tracey and James Green for their sterling efforts during the course of the season.
St Columb’s - Dylan Doherty, Dean McClafferty, Patrick Slevin, Conor Quigley, Conor Breslin, Stephen Duffy, Jack Higgins, Michael Lynch, Eoin McNeill, Mikael Kennedy (captain), Ben Doherty; Subs: Conor McDermott, Declan Harley, Gavin Doherty, Kieran Duffy, Emmett Hargan, Rory Holden, Kevin McCloskey, Keelan McDermott, Dylan McLean, Conor Dunleavy.