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Red Letter Day for Badminton in Mayo

posted 6 Apr 2010, 04:17 by Connacht Branch Badminton
Red Letter Day for St. Gerald’s and St. Joseph’s

March 24th will long be remembered as a red letter day for badminton in Mayo – the first ever gold at the All Ireland Schools Finals for a boys team from Mayo and a silver for St. Joseph’s Girls at the same outing – what a day! The girls from St. Joseph’s have won gold on two occasions previously but St. Geralds has never come back with any medals from the finals, which are held in the incredible Gormanstown Sports Hall, Co. Meath each year. In fact, only once has a boys’ team from Connaught taken gold at the championships and that was St. Mary’s, Galway in 1998. Such was the magnitude of their fantastic achievement.

The day began for St Gerald’s, Connaught champions, with the team of Kevin Keena, Mark Jennings, Alan Flynn, Niall Fahey and sub Cathal Lavelle, playing St. Peter’s College Wexford, Leinster schools Under 16 champions. Nerves were taut as each game, played to 30 pts, is very important to the overall result. All of the boys played brilliantly and after the singles the score was 3-1 in favour of St. Gerald’s. The two doubles went one either way so the final score was 4-2. 

In the meantime, their main opposition, Banbridge, Co. Down, Ulster champions, defeated Carrigaline, Cork, Munster Champions 5-1.  So, when St Gerald’s came to play the Munster champions they also had to record a similar result in order to stay with the Ulster champions. With great concentration shown by all team members and a superb singles win for Niall Fahey on his first time at the schools finals a fantastic 6-0 win was recorded. Make no mistake about it, not one of these games was won easily, no games are at All Ireland final level, but great credit is due to all the boys and also to  Cathal Lavelle and Cian McGowan who shared refereeing duties.

Heading into the final round of games, St. Gerald’s knew that a 3-3 draw would be enough to allow them to lift the Division 2 Shield for the first time. Banbridge showed that they were not going to give up their own chance on winning without a fight. Kevin Keena and Mark Jennings , playing No. 1 and 2 singles, were in no mood to accept second best, however, and recorded fantastic 30-19 and 30-23 wins respectively, so edging closer to the winning post.  At 2-0 St. Gerald’s needed just one more point and though Alan Flynn tried everything he was finally defeated by the narrowest of margins, 30-28. With Niall also finding the going tough we were standing at 2-2 heading into the all-important doubles. Kevin and Mark played superbly together to win 30-18 and so record an historic win for St. Gerald’s, Mayo and Connaught in general. Banbridge, to their credit, were very magnanimous in defeat and immediately offered their congratulations. 

As the boys were trying hard to win their first national title,  St. Josephs Girls Under 16’s were also battling hard in their attempt to bring back a title to St. Joseph’s for the third time in six years. The school was represented by Aoibheann Killion, Jennifer Coleman, Maria Zia Janjua and Jessica Dolan. Aoibheann and Jennifer are now seasoned campaigners and have represented our club all over the country. They performed magnificently throughout the day. Maria and Jessica are new to competition at this level and found the going a little tough at times. 

The gold for the St. Gerald’s boys and silver for the St Joseph’s girls will long be celebrated and savoured by all those involved with the development of badminton in Mayo. In particular, the teams owe Therese O’Brien, last year’s Badminton National Volunteer of the Year, a huge thank you. She organised the Connaught schools competition, liaised with the secondary schools and ordered the specially commissioned gear for both teams. Training was held every weekend, including right through the icy conditions around Christmas, and was led by top coaches, including Tommy Hehir, badminton development officer for the Connaught region. The hard work by all concerned paid off. It will be much tougher next year as both teams will move up to the Under 19 age bracket but that won't prevent either team trying to bring back more medals to Mayo.

The Under 16 St Geralds Team with the Under 16 Shield
Accepting the trophy
St Josephs with their banner
The boys relax in the hotel
The girls relax in the hotel
Sacred Heart School, Westport at the Finals
St Geralds display their banner
Kevin Keena and Mark Jennings in action