No introductions are needed between the Abington and Rockland football teams.
The distance between the respective campuses, roughly 2.5 miles, isn’t even long enough to be considered a valid cross-country course for the schools’ teams.
Proximity has bred plenty of familiarity, contempt and respect between all of the schools’ teams as they traverse a short stretch of Routes 139 or 123, depending on the traffic, but the storied football programs are about to take their rivalry to Route 1 in Foxborough, at Gillette Stadium.
Through the decades, the Bulldogs (9-2) and Green Wave (11-1) have met dozens of times, mainly as nonleague foes before Rockland joined the South Shore League in 2010. On Friday, the teams take it another step or 100 further when they play in their first postseason matchup, for the Division 6 state title.
For Abington, the game marks the return of 48-year coach Jim Kelliher, who was sidelined for both the Green Wave’s semifinal win over St. Mary’s and Thanksgiving matchup over Whitman-Hanson due to COVID-19 protocols.
Kelliher will be vying for his sixth championship in 48 seasons at his alma mater — against a team he coached both his first game in 1974 and 500th in October.
“It’s bubbly,” said Kelliher, Abington Class of 1966. “It’s like, holy moly, it can’t get any better.”
When he’s not coaching the Green Wave, Kelliher helps run an oil shop first opened by his father, Kelliher Brothers Oil Company, located in, of all places . . . neighboring Rockland.
“They know me pretty good, and I know them,” Kelliher said.
His father, Joseph Kelliher Sr., played football and basketball for the Bulldogs in the 1920s, about 50 years after Rockland (and Whitman) separated from Abington to form their own municipalities in the mid-1870s.
“It’s just so exciting for both schools and both communities, essentially being a couple of steps away from each other,” Rockland coach Nick Liquori said. “It’s pretty exciting to be a part of something as big as this at a venue like Gillette. For everything that’s at stake, it’s pretty humbling.”
Liquori is a born and bred Bulldog — both coaching staffs are populated with lifers from the towns — having played football at Rockland and winning the school’s first championship in the sport in 1992. He graduated in 1995 and returned to the program as an assistant in 2005, ascending to his current role in 2017.
Since becoming head coach, Liquori owns a 3-2 record against the Green Wave, including the 17-7 road victory this season that denied Kelliher a victory in his 500th game.
In fact, Liquori’s three wins over Abington are each of the last three games the Green Wave have lost, a 30-game stretch in which Abington has won its other 27 matchups — including the Div. 6 title over Leicester to cap off the 2019 season.
“It’s been a series of streaks,” Liquori said, noting the Green Wave had won the previous eight matchups over the Bulldogs.
Kelliher is fully aware his time as head coach of the Green Wave is winding down, and said that he has an end date in mind. Could that date be pushed up further if he were to guide Abington to a win over Rockland, just as he did in his debut 48 seasons earlier?
“I’ll always talk to my coaches and see how they feel,” Kelliher said. “I know it’s time, I know I’m on the short end of the stick, that’s fine with me, I understand that.”
But first, there’s the matter of figuring out whether the Green Wave or Bulldogs will represent the South Shore League’s Sullivan Division as Div. 6 state champs, just as Cohasset (Div. 7) and Randolph (Div. 8, over league foe Hull) have already done out of the Tobin. One way or the other, Abington or Rockland will bring home even greater prestige for one of the state’s most underrated leagues in a matchup unlike any they’ve had before.
“This one here,” Kelliher said, “it’s about the best you can have.”