Reaching an All-Ireland schools final is a notable achievement - reaching two in the one season is pretty remarkable.
In one memorable week back back in 1991, St. Columba’s College of Stranorlar experienced the bitter-sweet feeling of victory and defeat on the national stage.
The senior side, despite a battling performance, were eventually well beaten in the All-Ireland schools final at Finn Park by Greenhills College of Dublin. Trailing 2-0 from early, St. Columba’s had got the game back to 2-2 before eventually losing 7-2.
A week later, no less than seven members of that team, among them 15-year-old Shay Given, had to pick themselves up and go again, this time in the All-Ireland U-16 final where St. Aloysius College of Athlone provided the opposition at Athlone’s St. Mel’s Park.
This time, St. Columba’s were winners - Alan Oliver, a player who had scored an OG against Greenhills seven days early, with the winning goal in a 1-0 victory.
Twenty-five years on and the memories of that famous week in early May ‘91 are as strong as ever. James Rodgers, the manager of the St. Columba’s College senior side, said his team was blessed with no end of quality.
“Obviously we had Shay Given in the team, but there were a lot of good players that year,” he said.
“The thing was, we were a young side. There were so many of them who were part of the U-16 side who also got to the All-Ireland final.
“So for the senior side to go all the way to the final was a brilliant achievement.”
Rodgers remembers a Greenhills team who were particularly strong and fully deserved the victory.
“We were 2-0 down very early in the game,” he recalled. “We got it back to 2-2 but it was one of those days. We eventually lost 7-2.”
Rodgers also remembers the run his team had to the decider and recalls games against Loreto Milford in Ulster and then against Summerhill College of Sligo in the All-Ireland semi-final where a goal from Barry Patton saw them through.
Patton was one of a handful of players in the team who would go on to play at senior level. Alan Oliver also played in the League of Ireland as did Karl Lafferty, although he didn’t play in the senior final because of injury.
“We decided not to risk Karl because he was an important part of the U-16 side who were in the final a week later.”
James Rodgers is still part of the teaching staff at the Twin Towns school and has been managing school teams for 31 years. This year’s he’s looking after the u17 side.
“I love it,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with some great sides and some fantastic players. We’ve a great tradition at the school with teams, both boys and girls, and there has been quite a bit of success over the years.
“That year, was special, because we got to two All-Ireland finals and they were played in the one week. It was unusual for that to happen and it was a unique experience for us at the time. But it has happened to other schools in Donegal as well.”
The 7-2 defeat by Greenhills College at Finn Park was hugely disappointing, but within a week, St. Columba’s College bounced back in the perfect way possible.
They went to St. Mel’s Park in Athlone to meet St. Aloysius College of Athlone in the U-16 final with Shay Given, Fergal Crawford, Paul Houston, Gabriel Doherty and Alan Oliver the players to start in both finals.
Damien Doherty, Stephen McGee, Karl Lafferty, Jerome McElchar, Ryan Scanlon and Declan O’Callaghan all played in the U-16 final and were also part of the senior squad.
The Democrat’s report from the game in St. Mel’s Park described it as a dull, closely contested final and the match winning goal was certainly the highlight of the game.
For the goalscoring hero, Alan Oliver, it was particularly sweet.
Having scored an own goal for the seniors, he was naturally overjoyed with his strike ten minutes from time that led to the cup heading towards the Finn for the first time ever.