Belfast Telegraph

De La Salle crowned champions after St Malachy's Danske Bank Senior Cup victory

De La Salle 3-1 St Malachy's

De La Salle have been crowned Senior Cup champions for a record ninth time.

The west Belfast school overcame their cross-city rivals 3-1.

While it was heartbreak for St Malachy's who - again - finished runners-up and their 22-year wait for a cup win goes on.

De La Salle are the Belfast tournament's most successful side - clinching the trophy on eight previous occasions - while St Malachy's last lifted the crown in 1994 and have come agonisingly close a number of other times when finishing as runners-up.

Ahead of the game,  St Malachy's teacher and coach Tommy O'Neill said his boys will remember the occasion for the rest of their lives.

"It's a big day for the players," he said. "It means the world to the boys to play in front of a big crowd and TV cameras on an Irish League ground. It's an experience that will stand them in good stead for the future.

"It may not get the full live TV treatment like the rugby and Gaelic, but our boys will be happy to get five minutes on screen."

Perhaps the main difference between the football final and its counterparts is that it's a Belfast-only tournament rather than province-wide. The other difference is that it's a competition for GCSE pupils as opposed to sixth formers.

O'Neill believes it's tough for his pupils to balance their exams with their sporting endeavours. Some now play football for their school, club, county and in some cases their country.

"It is a difficult balancing act," added O'Neill. "It's their GCSE year so they have got a lot of studying to do, which is obviously the school's priority.

"Many of them are also on the books of Irish League clubs as well as playing for representative teams, so there is a lot of pressure. It's a difficult year for the boys but hopefully they will learn a lot from it."

Despite the counter attractions of Club NI (the IFA's elite development programme) and the NI Super Cup (formerly Milk Cup), O'Neill believes school's football is still important.

"It still has a major role to play in football development and personal development," he said.

"You can see the boys improving with every training session and the standard of school football is improving every year.

"Playing for your school still means a lot to our pupils. The lads see each other every day and they've played together on the same team for five years."

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