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January 7, 2013

With the aid of his St. John’s Prep background, Kelly takes Notre Dame into national title game tonight

Mike Cronin appreciates the fact that he’s had some extraordinary sports-related perks in his life. The 51-year-old from Manchester has attended NFL Super Bowls, the NCAA basketball Final Four and The Masters, among other things.

Then one day in August, 2011, he went to the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Ind. and visited head football coach Brian Kelly, a fellow St. John’s Prep alumnus and Cronin’s former roommate at Assumption College in Worcester. Cronin had no idea what to expect during his hastily-planned visit and, as it turned out, it was nothing like the memorable major sporting events he’d attended.

It was better.

Brian Kelly, who leads the 12-0 Fighting Irish into the BCS national championship game tonight against Alabama, made it the kind of day that would rival anything that Cronin had ever experienced.

“It was spectacular – one of those great days in my life,” said Cronin. “First we’re in his office, just talking, and then I get the tour. We’re in the locker room and they have those little (dressing) stalls that look like they did probably 70 years ago. And then I’m touching the ‘Play Like a Champion’ sign (leading to the tunnel and the football stadium) just like the players do.

“Notre Dame was starting (preseason) practice the next day, so Brian could’ve said he was too busy to see me,” added Cronin, “but he made time for me. I spent about two hours with him and it was as good as anything I’ve been to in my life.”

Kelly, 51, lived in Andover when he attended St. John’s Prep (Class of 1979) and has a University of Cincinnati helmet in his office. He’s justifiably proud of what he accomplished there, guiding the Bearcats to a 34-6 record in three-plus seasons as their head coach, including a 12-0 mark and a BCS Bowl appearance in the Sugar Bowl in 2009. The job he did at Cincinnati paved the way for his hiring by Notre Dame, so it was a turning point in his professional life.

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