Life could hardly be much better for Sarah Guilfoyle just now – marriage is on the horizon next year, her beloved Dubs continue to dominate the Gaelic football landscape and, of course, on March 31 she was an integral part of the management trio who guided Coláiste Mhuire, Mullingar to an unprecedented All-Ireland ‘A’ junior football triumph.
A native of Swords – “I played for St Finian’s in Swords as far back as I can remember” – Sarah’s father Malachy is a Kilbeggan man through and through. After playing for Dublin at minor and junior level up to 2013, and teaching for five years in Balbriggan Community College, she joined Kilbeggan Shamrocks three years ago (“a natural choice”), having successfully applied for a post in Coláiste Mhuire, following an interview with legendary former vice-principal Richie O’Donoghue, whom she describes as “a lovely man and a great GAA man”.
Sarah continues: “I joined the staff in September 2015 and by December I realized that I had landed in my dream job! It is a brilliant school and together with Brian (Murtagh) we managed to oversee a Leinster juvenile title. For this year’s junior campaign, Mattie (Dempsey) came on board and, if anything, the team has got better, as lads are physically stronger and we had more options.” Of course, a never-to-be-forgotten campaign ended in the Galtee Rovers ground just before 5pm last Saturday week with the scoreboard reading, Mgar 1-12 Sem 0-13, after what was a magnificent All-Ireland final win against the famous Killarney nursery, St Brendan’s.
The commitment to sport from the staff in Coláiste Mhuire – and that includes a very significant contingent of lady teachers – is on a par with any school in Ireland. Sarah explains: “We trained at least twice a week up in the Harbour Field, during lunchtime once a week and on Friday after the school half-day. We had a lot of dual players and we tried to strike a balance to accommodate other sports, in addition to the lads’ club commitments. We have a great staff and nobody is pulling or dragging lads to their own particular sport. And the lads are totally dedicated. The principal and his two deputies, Malachy (Flanagan), Niall (O’Brien) and Keith (Quinn) respectively, they just can’t do enough for you. It must be a minefield organising so many sports.
“We have to strike a balance between academia and sport, but all the players that we have would push themselves as much in the classroom as they do on the pitch. There are no egos there, or any complaining from subs. I said two years ago that this is a special group. They are unique. I know they will keep their heads now. This is not the pinnacle of their careers. I can’t wait to go to TEG Cusack Park in years to come and meet them when they are playing for Westmeath.”
While the junior team beat all and sundry en route to winning the Paul McGirr Cup, ironically, Sarah traces some of their progress to an in-house defeat at the hands of the school’s senior team during the year. She states: “We got a good skelping that day and we took it on board. These lads take instructions. They will do what you ask them to do.”
Of course, to win the All-Ireland title you must first win the North Leinster and Leinster crowns, and Coláiste Mhuire defeated St Patrick’s, Navan and Coláiste Eoin, Stillorgan in those respective deciders. In this regard, Sarah opines: “We certainly had a journey together this year. St Pat’s are our natural rivals, but Brian and I saw them in their semi-final and we had our homework done on them. It was a memorable day beating them. The Leinster semi-final against Naas CBS was a very tough game. Then to have to play the final a matter of days after an extra-time win was a huge ask. I feared the legs might be gone. They were an exceptional bunch to win that Leinster final.”
An All-Ireland semi-final win against St Joseph’s College, Galway augured well for the showdown with ‘The Sem’, and the boys in green duly delivered on March 31. “I don’t think I remember the first few minutes after the final whistle blew in Bansha,” Sarah confesses, before adding, “the three of us would be delighted to stay on and progress to the senior team. We will all sit down at start of the year in September and see who is managing the various teams. The GAA coaches in the school all learn from each other.”
In conclusion, Sarah states: “I want to thank the clubs who have lads so well-drilled and mature. Also, we have built up a great relationship with parents and grandparents, and we loved the chats with them all before and after games.”
Naturally, school life will get back to normal this week after the Easter break and Sarah will be immersed in teaching English and Geography to a range of students. Many of the lads she helped to coach will now be preparing for the Junior Cert. After that, it will be the summer holidays cheering on the Dubs to a possible four in-a-row. And a word of warning to her mischievous colleagues, especially from perennial bridesmaids Mayo, who have previously interfered with her precious Dublin colours in her office – I suspect that this very affable and organised young lady has many sky blue and navy flags in stock!