The Top Oil Leinster Post Primary Schools’ Senior Football ‘A’ has, in recent years, become the most unpredictable championship in the province.
And after this Saturday’s final, another new name will be etched onto the cup, which last autumn was dedicated to the memory of Bro Bosco Mulhare.
Excitement is building in Naas CBS as they prepare for their first ever final, in an effort to bring the title back to Kildare for the first time since 1923.
Similarly, Marist College are hoping to finally join the Roll of Honour after agonisingly losing four finals between 1983 and 2016. Should they finally make the breakthrough, it would be a particularly pleasing victory for long-serving teacher John Parker, who has been a mentor with the school’s senior teams for over 35 years.
Both sides have progressed through a new-look format, which replaced the straight knock-out competition of previous years. This season, 18 schools were drawn into six groups of three, with four combined teams competing in a separate section.
With only one team advancing to the quarter-finals from each of the groups, there was little margin for error.
Marist College made their intentions known with two big wins in Group F – ending with a score difference of +35. They first disposed of St Fintan’s, Sutton by 0-17 to 0-6 and followed up with a sensational performance to defeat Maynooth PP by 3-20 to 0-5.
Meanwhile, the concession of three goals meant Naas CBS had to settle for a draw with Good Counsel College in their opening fixture in Group D – 1-13 to 3-7. But, having competed in the ‘B’ grade in recent seasons, they viewed this as a positive outcome.
St Mary’s Edenderry then beat Good Counsel in Round 2, resulting in a make-or-break Round 3 game which resulted in a 3-8 to 1-6 victory for Naas CBS over their Offaly opponents.
St Aidan’s CBS of Whitehall were earmarked as one of the favourites for glory this season, but Marist College defeated them in the quarter-finals by 1-12 to 1-8, with Kieran Colclough netting the all-important goal.
Colclough also fired home the decisive goal in the second half of their semi-final against Offaly Schools. Marist College only finished with three points to spare (2-9 to 2-6), but were clearly the better side at the St Loman’s grounds in Mullingar.
Naas CBS progressed the last four with a 2-12 to 1-9 victory over Knockbeg College at Portarlington. The winners held a narrow 1-6 to 1-5 lead at the interval, but eased further ahead after their opponents were reduced to 14 players. Killian Thompson and Gary O’Connor scored a goal in either half for the Kildare side.
In their next outing, Naas CBS qualified for the final with an emphatic 2-8 to 0-6 victory over Colaiste Eoin in the semi-final. They gained the upper hand in the second quarter and put the game beyond their opponents’ reach with well-taken goals from Darragh Kirwan and Luke Griffin early in the second half.
Marist College, as usual, feature players from either side of the Shannon: Roscommon side St Brigid’s and Athlone from Westmeath won their respective Minor Championships in 2017 and most of their key players come from those clubs.
The catchment area of Naas CBS also includes clubs who are making great strides at underage level and they have come under the radar this year.
A huge crowd is expected at O’Connor Park on Saturday and with so much at stake, it promises to be another memorable final at this level between two top-class teams.
Marist College Path To The Final
Semi-Final: Marist College 2-9, Offaly Schools 2-6
Quarter-Final: Marist College 1-12, St Aidan’s CBS 1-8
2nd Group Game: Marist College 3-20, Maynooth P.P. 0-5
1st Group Game: Marist College 0-17, St Fintan’s, Sutton 0-6
Naas CBS Path To The Final
Semi-Final: Naas CBS 2-8, Colaiste Eoin 0-6
Quarter-Final: Naas CBS 2-12, Knockbeg College 1-9
2nd Group Game: Naas CBS 3-8, St Mary’s, Edenderry 1-6
1st Group Game: Naas CBS 1-13, Good Counsel College 3-7