St. John’s, Creggan were crowned All County Division Two champions after a thrilling all city final at the annual Doire GAA mBunscol finals night in Owenbeg on Friday.
Friday’s dramatic 0-07 to 0-06 victory over St. Patrick’s, Pennyburn capped a remarkable rise for a school which only introduced Gaelic football three years ago and even prompted a congratulatory tweet from James McClean, one of Creggan’s most famous sporting sons.
With Sacred Heart P.S. excelling in the Division One competition and Glendermott P.S. claiming the Division Four title, the success is the latest signal of the GAA renaissance in the city, something St. John’s coach, Sean Mullan believes schools and club can build on.
“The boys were delighted and it’s indicative of the improvement of Gaelic Games within the city. All the city schools down in Owenbeg did very well,” explained Mr Mullan.
“The whole evening was a huge occasion and winning the Club Derry Cup was superb. We only started Gaelic in the school three years ago. Our Principal, Geraldine O’Connor was adamant that we should have a Gaelic team and the support we have had from her has been fantastic, I can’t praise her and the whole staff enough.
“At our first training session three years ago we didn’t have one child attached to a GAA club. Now, we have about 50, the vast majority of which are Sean Dolan’s but we also have representatives from Doire Trasna and Steelstown Brian Ogs as well.”
St. John’s success was even more striking given only three of the 12 strong panel were Primary 7 students, though the leadership provided by Corey McGowan, captain Eoin Gorman and Charlie Green, who hit 0-3, was pivotal to the success which played out in front of almost 1,000 spectators.
A native of Ballerin, Mr Mullan coaches the kids alongside Doire Trasna club man, Alan Nash, but says they are indebted to the work of Games Promotion Officer Brian O’Donnell and Derry ladies player, Ciara McGurk, both of whom do tireless work in the school.
It is an upward trend that is being duplicated across the city with a talented Sacred Heart team competing well against the county’s top schools in Division One.
“What would have won you the Tower Cup four or five years ago, wouldn’t win you Division Four in the Tower Cup these days and that just marks you the improvement in standards.
“We had a massive turn out of parents and staff who came down to support us in Owenbeg. The parents were absolutely delighted, the social media accounts were buzzing all weekend. The parents also had a fantastic time. It really opened their eyes to what the potential for Gaelic in the city is.
“The boys were very nervous before the final but coming home they were buzzing.
“Getting the boys to realise they can compete at these levels is half the battle, it shows them the levels they can aspire to.
“They would never had played in front of a crowd of that size before in any sport. They were slightly star struck at the start but once they got going, they relished it and played superbly.
“It is an experience the players will never forget and one which will encourage them to push on in the sport. The days of primary schools in the city just throwing out soccer players on to a Gaelic pitch and waiting to see what happens are long gone. Anyone who has watched the Tower Cup over the past few years will tell you that.”
And a memorable night was capped by the tweet from one of Sean Dolan’s most famous ‘old boys’!
“Yes, James McClean tweeted us, ‘Congratulations’ which was a lovely touch. As a proud Creggan man, it was great for the young boys to see him take an interest in how they were doing.
“Our team would be quite young. Nine of them are Primary Six and this win can give them something to aim for ahead of next year, to push on into Division One and test themselves there.”