19 Nov 2015


One the front of their prospectus, St Mary's like any other school in the country outlines it's mission, it's values and in the impressive foyer of their building on Limavady’s Irish Green Street the words 'Living Faith, Inspiring Learning, Shaping Futures' are there for all to see under the school crest.   

Education is an important vehicle on life’s journey but the whole school experience is of equal value as young people develop their social skills, team work and resilience, all vital as they make the steps towards their chosen career. 

Very often it is the extra-curricular activities our pupils will have the fondest memories of, with sport and team sports in particular playing a huge part in moulding our young people.  
St Mary’s Limavady currently have an enrolment of around 650 pupils and have recently made a further commitment towards the development of Gaelic Games in the school and the local Wolfhounds GAA club.  Derry player Chrissy McKaigue has joined the staff and this coincided with the school’s first ever Ulster Colleges title, the Gerry Brown Cup.   

This follows on from the work done previously by Stephen Keown, Tommy Campbell, Des O’Connor and Sean Mullan, Catriona Hull, Jackie Walsh and Siobhan Connolly.  They all have had their input into the lives of the children passing through their hands.  Another man McKaigue knows very well is former teacher Mickey Moran who guided St Mary’s to an All-Ireland Vocational School final in 1984.  That was then but McKaigue has given us a great insight into what is happening on the ground now. 

McKaigue takes up the story giving us an insight what is going on in Limavady.  My role is Sports and Gaelic Games Co-ordinator within the Limavady area. My aim is to promote GAA within the primary and secondary school network. I organise and facilitate all the games and help out with the underage structures at Limavady Wolfhounds.”   

McKaigue also pointed out his link with Wolfhounds chairman Sean Bradley.  “Ultimately my role is to help unlock the potential in Gaelic games that a town the size and talent of Limavady has.  The club have been integral to the schools GAA development in the sharing of their premises for training and games.” 

 “The school is blessed to have a state of the art sports hall and fitness suite. We also have a sports pavilion that has excellent changing facilities and two full size pitches.  The future of the GAA in St Mary’s is really positive. We have an excellent leader and principal in Mary McCloskey. She has been tremendous in support of me and my work. We realise the power sport has in developing our pupils into leaders in society and  really value Gaelic games and our students appreciate the opportunities they get in playing Gaelic games for the school.” 

McKaigue speaks highly about his experience of the Ulster Colleges scene in his days in St Patrick’s Maghera and highlights the benefits of Limavady moving into that grade. “The main advantage is more games as we compete in both Ulster Colleges and Derry Vocational schools. The main problem for me in GAA as a whole and particularly at underage is the training to games to ratio. The more games we as a school can provide will generate more interest and ultimately help the development of GAA in the area.” 

The main feeder clubs for St Mary’s are Glack, Drumsurn, Limavady Wolfhounds, Faughanvale and Magilligan.  In other big counties like Kerry and Tyrone many of their top players come from Intermediate and Junior clubs, in Derry this has never been the case.  How can this change?  

McKaigue explains, “The biggest challenge for me is trying to establish a stronger culture of Gaelic games within the Limavady and surrounding area. There perhaps is a lack of belief within the area about their ability in Gaelic games because many of the pupils don’t come from traditional powerhouses of GAA clubs. The exposure to Ulster colleges and the competition against some of the top schools around Ulster has shown that some of our pupils and teams are as talented as anyone else in Ulster.” 
Gerry Brown Winners
(Pic Derry Journal)
Last season when Limavady brought home the Gerry Brown Cup, they defeated St Ciaran’s Ballygawley, a school that has produced many top players for both Errigal Ciaran and Tyrone.  Also last season the senior boys were pipped in the final of the O’Doherty Cup by Holy Cross Strabane.   

Historically most of the county’s college success has come from St Patrick’s Maghera, with other schools coming along with their turn at the top but McKaigue reckons getting other schools to match the Maghera consistency is the key to Derry’s GAA. 

As a county we will flourish if we can get more post primary schools playing Ulster Colleges A and B football. The vast majority of our pupils at St Mary’s are coming from Junior and intermediate clubs.  Getting exposure to Ulster Colleges football on a consistent basis means the local clubs will benefit and ultimately Derry GAA as a whole would also reap the rewards.” 

“It takes time to build up a standard of playing at that level.  I believe St Marys have the structures in place to making inroads up the levels of Ulster Colleges.  For example this season our Year 11 boys will compete at Grade B Ulster Colleges. For a school with our student body size that is a remarkable achievement.”  With the club scene almost wrapped up for the season some players won’t see a ball until early next season and any development may have been lost by the next season comes around and according to McKaigue this is where schools come in.  “The post primary school network is paramount to GAA development within the county.  It gives the pupils the chance to compete and train throughout the year when their clubs are finished. The more games and coaching schools can provide means more exposure to GAA and as a direct result the local clubs will also benefit from this.” 

This week St Mary's are preparing for the Derry U16 semi final against St Colm's Draperstown and McKaigue will be busy organising pitches, referees, kits and getting his St Mary’s Limavady charges together.  School life will go on, coursework will be taken care of but Mrs McCloskey and the GAA fraternity will hope that in the not too distant future another Ulster title will come to St Mary’s.  Sean Bradley of Limavady will realise the value it will bring to the Wolfhounds with new Derry Director of Football Brian McIver also keeping an eye on developments. 

The Gerry Brown may not have the media profile of the MacRory, McLarnon or Mageean Cups but if Ulster Minor titles are to become a more common occurrence and another visit of Sam is on the horizon then tiny acorns will need to grow into great Oaks.  In the meantime McKaigue will continue to harness the next crop of Limavady children and as their school motto suggests – shape their future.

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