IT SLIGO is looking forward to All-Ireland success - no matter what happens at Croke Park on September 23rd.
The Institute has strong links with both the Mayo and Donegal teams, with more than 20 present and former students involved between the two panels.
But the keenest rivalry on All-Ireland Sunday will probably be between pals Mark McHugh (22) the man dubbed Donegal’s “roving dynamo” and his IT Sligo Sigerson Cup team mate Kevin Keane, Mayo’s right corner-back, both beneficiaries of sports scholarships at the Institute
Mark, named Man of the Match in the Ulster Final, and a second year Accounting and Finance student returned to the class room this week but will probably be forgiven by his lecturers if he had other things on his mind over the next fortnight.
His team mate Kevin Keane a third year Quantity Surveying student is also savouring the All-Ireland buzz gathering momentum in the college.
“Mayo played brilliantly against Dublin. I play with Kevin and a few of the other Mayo lads for the college and was delighted for them. There is going to be a huge buzz around the place for the next few weeks,” said Mark.
Kevin Keane who celebrated his 22nd birthday the day after Mayo’s impressive win over Dublin, reckons that a lot of GAA supporters around the country are delighted to see different counties reaching the final this year. “It will be a novelty for people all over the country. When we were playing on the college team last year it probably never struck Mark and myself that we’d be meeting up on Croke Park at the end of September,” he conceded.
Both players acknowledge that it will be a fiercely fought battle to the 70th minute. “When we go on the pitch we will be going into battle,” said Kevin, a member of the Westport club. “But after the game winner takes all but we will shake hands no matter who wins”.
“We may not be friends for the 70 minutes but we will be pals when it is over,” agreed Mark who plays with local club Kilcar. His father Martin, as well as being a former Donegal GAA legend, had a role in coaching the first IT Sligo team to win the Sigerson Cup. Mark admitted to being “quietly confident” but pointed out: “Mayo are hungry as well and they quite rightly are confident after that performance against Dublin.”
Both Mark and Kevin acknowledged the importance of having a sports scholarship when they travel home so regularly for training. “The scholarship helps with the rent and the fuel costs,” Mark pointed out.
President of IT Sligo, Professor Terri Scott, said that the Institute prioritises investment in sport and its sports facilities. More than €50,000 is allocated in Sport Scholarships to students each year; “IT Sligo has a very proud tradition and achievement in sport and we encourage and support our students to participate in, and to excel at, their chosen sport in every way we can. To that end, we have recently invested €2 million upgrading campus sports facilities and students now have the benefit of flood-lit playing pitches, an astro turf facility, an international standard running track and the fully equipped Knocknarea Arena.”
“We have a particularly strong record in GAA, having won the Sigerson Cup three times in the last decade, and we’re delighted with the success of all our students and alumni in this year’s Championship. May the best team win!,” she said.
The support of the Institute’s GAA Club is doubtlessly a major contributor to the significant success of its students and alumni. “We get great support in the Institute from people like Michael Harte in the GAA club and we have everything we need there in terms of facilities,” testified Kevin Keane.
Sligo man Michael Harte who is the Gaelic games promotions officer at the Institute is wisely staying strictly neutral for the final. He pointed out that 11 of the Mayo side have (strong) IT Sligo connections including current students Kevin Keane, Danny Geraghty, Micheal Forde and Evan Regan who are on the bench for the final. IT Sligo alumni on the Mayo panel include Colm Boyle, Alan Freeman, Keith Higgins, captain Andy Moran who is out with an injury , Michael Walsh and Pat Harte who is also injured with a broken ankle. Alan Dillon and the Team Manager, James Horan, also studied online courses through the Institute.
Donegal players who formerly attended IT Sligo include Paul Durcan, brothers Eamonn and Niall McGee, Karl Lacey, Christy Toye and Barry Dunnion while Donegal selector Rory Gallagher is a former student, as is goal keeping Coach Pat Shovlin.
“It’s going to be a great occasion for us but I am going to stay strictly neutral,” said Michael Harte.