The focus at St Teresa’s National school in Killoe is generally on all things educational, however, this week sport has firmly taken over.
That is because local club Killoe Emmet Og are due to compete in the Longford senior football championship final, hoping to get their hands on the Connolly Cup for the first time since 2015. Now, one may assume that the school, it's students and staff are in complete support of the team seeing as two current members of the teaching staff will swap their whiteboard markers for the green and white of Killoe this weekend.
But that is simply not the case as not only will the school be represented by Daniel Mimnagh and Emmet Toher on the Killoe squad but they will also be represented by a member of the opposition - one of Longford Slashers longest serving players, Niall Mulligan.
Principal of St Teresa’s NS, Kevin Mollaghan, admitted the huge sense of excitement amongst students and staff at the school ahead of the final.
He told the Leader: “A lot of these children would never have experienced a county final or were too young to remember it. Whilst others may remember having won two in a row and thought it was always going to be like that.
“There is great excitement now in advance of this game, especially with members of staff on both sides. We are really looking forward to it.”
Kevin says both students and staff are eagerly awaiting the big game and when questioned as to who he is backing in the run-up to the final, Kevin couldn’t help but pin is his support to the Killoe flag.
He remarked: “We are looking forward to the big match and may the best team win.
“But I am a Killoe man and I am very keen to see them do well in the final this weekend.
“Maybe it is more important to keep 300+ kids and the majority of the staff happy, rather than a few staff and students.
“I better go with the majority as well as my gut,” he said upon choosing Killoe as his choice for victors.
Regardless of who comes out on top in the final, Kevin says the three lads are excellent role models for the students and their parishes.
He stated: “These teachers are role models whether they are wearing white and green or whether they are wearing blue.
“It is great for the children to be able to look at these guys in person, instead of role models off the television.
“Hopefully the lads will all do themselves justice with their games.”
Unlike the saying ‘like a cat amongst the pigeons’, Slashers man Niall Mulligan finds himself in a reverse situation as one of a few Slashers natives within the St Teresa’s ranks.
He admits that there has been plenty of ‘banter’ between himself and the Killoe contingent ahead of the game and noted that he has even managed to persuade some students to join the Slashers side.
Niall told the Leader: “The kids come into the classroom and decide one day they are supporting Slashers and the next it’s Killoe.
“But I think they are mostly backing Killoe. We have only one or two left.”
Emmet Toher added: “In fairness to Niall he is after getting a few bandwagon supporters on his side to support Slashers.”
Daniel Mimnagh chimed in: “Everytime we go into a room Niall can be seen trying to get another bandwagon supporter.
“To be fair to him he has turned a few heads around here, but it is all a bit of craic around here.”
Of some of the opposition ploys to distract him ahead of the game, Niall noted a number of incidents, one of which ‘could have got him killed’.
He said: “I came out one day, drove my car as far as the Longford Arms and opened my boot to discover a Killoe flag.
“I thought I was after reversing into a Killoe flag, but I think our caretaker Gerry Rowley had a hand in that,” he laughed.
“Outside of that it has only been the odd kick from Mimnagh here in the classroom.”
Principal Kevin Mollaghan added: “There has been some great fun in Mr Mulligan’s room between himself and the children.
“I think they all wish him well and hope he plays well on the day.
“But if he scored ten points, got man of the match and Killoe won the game, I think that might be the best compromise for everyone, apart from Mr Mulligan of course,” he laughed.
The standalone Slashers man admitted he will take any extra motivation he can get ahead of the game, with his place of employment since 2014 kitted with signs depicting all of his rivals previous senior triumphs. He acknowledged, however, that they have a big task on their hands.
He said: “Killoe have been doing really well the last while and they have built on it. I saw them at the start of the year and they have gotten stronger with every game. We need every little bit of motivation we can get.”
The game, which is on Sunday at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, will renew a long standing rivalry between the teams. The last time both teams lined out in the showpiece game was seven years ago in 2012, with both Daniel Mimnagh and Niall Mulligan on the pitch that day.
On that occasion, some last minute magic from Mimnagh led Killoe to a replay and on the second time of asking they were not going to be undone, with Mimnagh contributing to the devastation of Slashers fans once more as Killoe won by a three-point margin to take their first title in 17 years.
When asked if Slashers had any tricks up their sleeve to stop his fellow teacher Mr Mimnagh this time around, Niall was quick to reply.
He said: “We have tickets bought for him to America, but he will probably be home before the game.
“He doesn’t usually last too long out there,” he chuckled, before adding: “It will be a collective effort to look after him. He is flying it this year, the same as many of them on the Killoe team, but we will do what we can.”
Both teams are expecting a tight finish to their upcoming encounter and a good game of attacking football.
Niall said: “I don’t think there will be much in the game either way. Both teams like to pride themselves in playing a bit of football so hopefully that is what will happen.”
Daniel Mimnagh, Killoe’s hero back in 2012, says they are taking each game as it comes.
He said: “You take it game by game. As everyone says, you are only as good as your previous game.
“We are all focused, both ourselves and Slashers, with our eyes on the major prize.
“We will both do whatever it takes. We know each other inside out. It is not all about tactics as Niall said, it is total football, two teams that love to play football and go all out attack.
“May the best team win.”
Although out numbered at two to one and the subject of teasing from his fellow teachers in St Teresa’s, Niall says all the banter has remained clean cut thus far.
Emmet Toher joked: “We have been adding a few extra sugars into his tea and a few bits of pieces into his lunch.
“Ah no in general the atmosphere has been absolutely brilliant. There has been great banter between the three of us. And the rest of the staff as well, they are all rowing in.
“It has been great craic, the whole build-up, so we are all looking forward to it.”
Although rivals on the pitch, all three lads noted that both sides have a huge amount of respect for each other. Irrespective of the score, they have vowed that they will remain on speaking terms and the best of friends.
Daniel said: “There is a profound respect between the two teams.
“No matter who supports who, we are just going to go out there and play the game and enjoy the build up.”
Emmet added: “I am sure on the Monday or Tuesday we will all have a pint together and get over things together.”
Niall stated: “ We will have a drink afterwards and celebrate or commiserate together.
“It is always a great buzz when two neighbouring parishes come together. Traditionally over the years it has always been the same. So I expect no different.”
Even if Slashers do overcome Killoe, they expect Niall to be welcomed back with open arms.
Emmet said: “In fairness to Niall, he came out to Killoe school a number of years ago now and jumped on board and helped with the coaching.
“ The students here highly respect him and he is a great man to have around the place as well.
“We have a huge amount of respect for each other.”
Daniel added jokingly: “I think Niall may have booked the week off actually, just in case.”
Whatever the outcome on Sunday, one thing that is certain is that the stakes could not be higher, with bragging rights at St Teresa’s up for grabs.