Coach Ciara Marley has hailed her history-making heroes after St Catherine’s College Under 16 gaelic footballers were crowned Ulster champions for the first time ever.
by Richard Bullick
The cathedral city outfit had won the Ulster Schools Under U16 B competition last season but few would have believed St Catherine’s could claim the elite A title at the first attempt.
However the Armagh girls shocked defending All Ireland champions Loreto College Cavan in the semi-finals before sensationally trouncing Tyrone heavyweights St Ciaran’s Ballygawley in this month’s showpiece.
St Catherine’s won 5-11 to 1-3 at the Mid Ulster Sports Arena in Magherafelt, where they kept their opponents to a solitary point in the first half and romped to an incredibly comprehensive victory in their first ever A final.
“It’s such an unbelievable achievement for these girls, who have made history and defied all the odds. They’re an absolute credit to the school and I’m so proud of them,” enthuses Ciara, who last season steered St Catherine’s seniors and Under 16s to Ulster C and B titles respectively.
Ciara officially finished last Friday for maternity leave but hopes to be involved in her team’s All Ireland campaign along with her husband Paddy Marley, a teacher at St Patrick’s Grammar and Ballyhegan’s Armagh Junior Championship winning captain last year.
“We have great characters and leaders on this team like captain Lucy McAlary, Chloe Kelly, Casey Mullan and Emily Druse. Their talent makes my role very easy but I have loved every minute of managing this team.
“This year has been extra exciting as I’m expecting my first baby in February. I’ve enlisted the help of my husband Paddy to coach the girls and he has been helping me put them through their paces. They’re a pleasure to work with and show us the utmost respect at all times.
“We have had a fabulous week in school, attending assemblies to speak to younger pupils and the girls also spoke to staff about their journey so far. The school have really got behind us and recognise the talent that this group of girls have and everyone’s very excited that there’s now an All Ireland semi-final to look forward to.
“The girls will have a short break for Christmas and we will be back to the hard training soon. We have a very ambitious group and, for me, it’s about nurturing this talent and giving them the confidence to be the best they can possibly be.”
Mrs Marley understandably describes this Ulster A title triumph as the proudest moment of her coaching career and she has transformed the school’s gaelic footballing fortunes since switching from coaching camogie in September last year.
She has given good direction to a talented group including the multi-talented Mullan, scorer of 2-3 in this month’s final, who is just 15 but plays Senior Championship club football for Armagh Harps and was recently awarded an Ulster Schools camogie All Star.