It will be long remembered as a red letter day for badminton in Mayo – the first gold at the All Ireland schools final for a boys team from Mayo and a silver for St Joseph’s girls at the same outing. The girls from St Joseph’s have won gold on two occasions previously but St Gerald’s has never come back with any medals from the finals. The day began for St Gerald’s with the team of Kevin Keena, Mark Jennings, Alan Flynn, Niall Fahey, and sub Cathal Lavelle, playing St Peter’s College Wexford and winning 4-2.
In the meantime their main opposition, Banbridge, Co Down, the 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. 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. St Gerald’s raced into a 2-0 lead, but were pegged back to 2-2, before the final’s doubles games which gave St Gerald’s the result they needed to claim the title.
As the boys were trying hard to win their first national title, St Joseph’s girls under 16s 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. 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 Connacht 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.