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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Ide Colbert. St Benildus College celebrate their Leinster win.
# seminal moment
Dublin school’s ‘very own Jim McGuinness’ has brought them to brink of All-Ireland final
Donegal man James Trimble’s fresh approach is paying off as St Benildus College reach uncharted waters.

FOR SO LONG the bridesmaids, Dublin school St Benildus College are just win away from the biggest day of all.

Eight years ago, Benildus were left heartbroken again. A second successive defeat in the Dublin Senior ‘A’ Gaelic football final was difficult to digest. That coveted crown had eluded them once again.

But now, after putting that hoodoo to bed in 2009, they find themselves going from strength to strength and just one win away from an All-Ireland final.

Colleges football has long been competitive in the capital but Dublin’s champions have invariably struggled when pitted against the giants of Leinster schools football.

Last month, Benildus became just the fifth Dublin school to be crowned Leinster champions in the past 84 years, following in the footsteps neighbours Colaiste Eoin (1998 and 2014), St David’s CBS (1986), Ardscoil Rís (1979) and the now closed Belcamp College (1965, 1967 and 1968).

It has long been accepted that Dublin’s schools were major underdogs against the likes of Longford’s St Mel’s College; St Patrick’s College, Navan; and Good Counsel, New Ross.

But a five-point victory against Marist College, Athlone, following a marathon battle with Clann Mhuire, Clane in the semi-finals, that went to extra-time on two occasions, will see Benildus contest an All-Ireland schools semi-final in Nenagh, County Tipperary tomorrow (throw-in 2.30pm).

The challenges don’t come much bigger — in their way is the dominant force that is St Brendan’s College, Killarney, widely known as ‘the Sem’.

Proven

The Sem is a proven breeding ground for some of Kerry’s best; their alumni includes Páidí O Sé, Pat Spillane and Colm Cooper to name but a few. And the school has a roll of honour to match, with 21 Munster titles and two All-Ireland crowns (Hogan Cups) to their name.

St Brendan’s have dismantled all before them to date, including a 5-21 to 0-7 Munster final win against HS Clonmel, so the Dublin school will be up against it in Nenagh.

But confidence is high in Benildus following a remarkable rise over the past eight years; their 2009 Dublin title was the first of four in a row and they are once again in the decider this year, against St Aidan’s CBS.

Benildus has produced its share of talented athletes too, in Gaelic games and elsewhere; former Ireland soccer international Richard Sadlier and double European indoor 400m champion David Gillick spent their secondary school days in these corridors.

Ray Cosgrove, an Allstar in 2002, captained an U-14 Benildus side to glory in 1990 but it was in recent years, with the likes of current Dublin seniors Paul Mannion and David Byrne to the fore, that football in the school went to a new level.

James Trimble St Benildus College Manager Steven Dagg St Benildus College manager James Trimble. Steven Dagg

Helm

And at the helm of this senior team, the school’s first Leinster ‘A’ champions, is Donegal man James Trimble, a coach who is not short on ideas.

School principal Martin Johnson described Trimble, who is coaching the senior team for the first time this year, as St Benildus College’s “very own Jim McGuinness”, a term the second-year year head was understandably flattered by.

“Jim is obviously a role model for any manager, the way he approaches the game,” Trimble told The42.

McGuinness, of course, is a renowned tactician who has changed the coaching of the game and encouraged football managers to think outside the box.

Upon meeting Trimble it’s easy to see where Johnson is coming from; the similarities are remarkable. Trimble and McGuiness both hail from the same Glenties club, Naomh Conaill, both are blessed with wavy black locks, and approach the structures of Gaelic football with imagination.

Leadership

Trimble has instilled an interesting approach to leadership among his Benildus side and it seems to be paying dividends. Instead of picking a regular captain, he has opted to rotate the role to encourage his players to embrace a collective leadership model.

He wants leadership to be seen as something that extends much further than stepping forward for the coin toss.

“The players share the responsibility,” Trimble explained.

“You’re only as strong as your weakest player.

“When you deal with any team you deal with a lot of personalities, especially at that age. So it’s quite important that they all be equal and if anyone makes a mistake that they share the responsibility and make up for that mistake.

It’s purely to focus on the team mentality. If someone wants to be a leader they lead from behind, not from the front.

St Brendan’s have cruised through Munster but Trimble hasn’t been doing any secret scouting in the hope of discovering a weakness in the Sem’s armoury. That’s not his style.

Trimble believes that the same can’t be said of their semi-final opposition as he said a number of local schools had been contacted by people from the Kingdom, seeking information on Benildus, something he feels was a waste of time.

“Our preparation started back in September. What we do in the last week now is try to put icing on the cake. The cake was made a long time ago.

“We haven’t focused on the other team. We’re not going to change our plan. I know that they’ve been ringing around local schools looking for information about us. If they had rang me I would have told them myself,” he said with a smile.

After surviving their Leinster semi-final marathon against Kildare’s Scoil Mhuire that lasted more than two hours and 40 minutes, Trimble feels that the belief among his charges is deep-rooted.

“They didn’t panic against Clane.

“And you can only remove that danger of panic if there is a solid, long-term plan.

“Everybody is equal and it goes back to the captaincy thing. We had guys who were black-carded in the first game and there was no panic. And you only get that from the shared responsibility.

“It will stand them in good stead, having that experience against Clane.”

Steven Dagg Tom Keane in action for St Benildus College against Marist College. Steven Dagg

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Rivalry

Benildus draws most of its footballers from three clubs in south Dublin; Kilmacud Crokes, Ballinteer St John’s and Naomh Olaf. There is a rivalry ingrained when the footballers first come through the gates.

Trimble was quick to point out that the clubs do most of the hard work in the region, it is his role to ensure his squad is united when in the green and black of Benildus.

“The players are involved in lots of different teams, Trimble said.

The only goal I had was to make sure that they worked as a team because when you have them coming from three or four different clubs it’s difficult to get them to play as a team, especially clubs that are rivals.

Current principal Johnson, a former past pupil, knows this long and laboured football journey better than most. So much work has gone into laying the seeds for success, something that has finally come to fruition over the past seven years.

“This year is particularly strong in that not only have we won Leinster for the first time, our under-14s won Dublin so you’re looking at another strong squad coming through. We’re also in the Dublin senior final again.

“At this stage there is the potential to win three trophies, which would be out of this world.

“The Dublin breakthrough probably laid the foundation for this and the two managers probably deserve a lot of credit for that; Eamonn Cosgrove and Alan Costello. They won four in a row,” Johnson explained.

“The new manager, James Trimble, is the Jimmy McGuinness of Benildus. He has a very unique style, he’s very focused.

“He invests an enormous amount of trust in the guys that start the game. They play to a formula that has worked really well.”

Memorable

The school’s first Leinster title was widely recognised from near and afar, and that’s something that has made it particularly memorable for Johnson.

“One of the spin-offs from the Leinster campaign is the number of people who have been in contact with the school. A huge number of past pupils and teachers.

“Out of the blue I even got a call from a Longford man who had played for Mel’s in the ’50s and he wanted to congratulate the school on the win. We had a chat for five minutes or so, it was a very GAA kind of thing.

He told me that he never won a Leinster title and he was still giving out about the coach at the time! It’s nice that people make the effort.

“There is a strong tradition here of Gaelic games. We’ve had our ups and downs. Whatever happens after here we’re going to enjoy it. But we won’t be easily beaten.”

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