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MacRory Cup: Colman’s class keeps Down in ascendancy

Omagh CBS 1-08 St Colman’s Coll 1-14

By John Campbell

Patience is a virtue and St Colman’s have certainly had to exercise it in spades as they awaited the return of the prestigious MacRory Cup to their Violet Hill headquarters.

But yesterday the 12-year waiting game ended for the Newry school when they triumphed in stunning style over fancied Omagh CBS in a Casement Park final that epitomised just how vital the blossoming colleges’ sector has become to the very future of the sport in the province.

If the silverware accompanied the ecstatic St Colman’s side on their trip back into the heart of Down for the 17th time in their history, then the plaudits for what was indeed a riveting sporting spectacle must be shared between the teams.

In truth, this was a contest that highlighted the skill, artistry and honesty of gaelic football.

With the Mourne county riding high in Division Two of the National Football League, the final touches being put to preparations for Annual Congress in Newcastle next month, celebrations being planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the county’s first All Ireland win and now St Colman’s having claimed the blue riband of the colleges sector, Down GAA is not so much thriving at the moment as actually mocking convention.

A county that has lived for so long in the shadow of Armagh and Tyrone in particular at all levels, including schools, has undergone a dramatic resuscitation.

And on the evidence offered yesterday, there could be even better days ahead. For the moment, though, the jubilations will continue after a six-point victory over an Omagh CBS side that remained in touch up until the last 10 minutes when their challenge dramatically dissolved.

While a palpable team spirit and collective effort underscored St Colman’s coup, the individual brilliance of skipper Niall McParland, finisher supreme Jerome Johnston, goal-scoring hero Caolan Mooney and inspirational attacking ace Colin Stevenson lavishly decorated their triumph.

Yet it was Omagh’s Ronan O’Neill who threatened to steal the show in the early stages especially when his 15th minute goal, a magnificent solo effort when he cut in from the bye-line, catapulted his team into a 1-1 to 0-3 lead, McParland, Johnston and Chris Clarke having given St Colman’s an opening three-point cushion.

But, tellingly, O’Neill was to prove his team’s only scorer in the first-half. In contrast, Ryan Johnston and Jerome Johnston (2) bagged three further points to give St Colman’s their interval 0-6 to 1-1 advantage although the feeling persisted that the Omagh side would come good.

That feeling, though, was to last for precisely two minutes of the second period.

That’s how long it took before Stevenson cleverly held the ball up before sending Mooney in and the half-forward drilled the ball to the net to leave St Colman’s 1-6 to 1-1 ahead.

To their credit, Omagh responded robustly, John McCullagh, Stefan Tierney and the ubiquitous O’Neill plundering scores to reduce the deficit to two points.

And even though McParland put a little more daylight between the teams with a fine point, Omagh retaliated yet again with scores from substitute Ryan Lynch and Conor Clarke.

But when Mooney and Chris Clarke looped over St Colman’s points prior to Ryan Johnston and Lynch trading scores, the force appeared to be with the Newry side who by now had Ross McGarry, last year’s Down Minor captain, leading their line having been sprung from the bench.

And so it proved. In the last six minutes as fatigue clearly engulfed the Red Hands representatives, St Colman’s landed four superb points from Jerome Johnston (2), Stevenson and Mooney to climax a performance that will now stand comfortably alongside the best offered by any side that has claimed the trophy in the past couple of decades.

Omagh CBS: R Clarke; S Mullan, Ryan O’Neill, D Bradley; N Sludden, T Canavan (0-1) , D Connolly; C Grugan, S Warnock (Capt); C Clarke (0-1), Ronan O’Neill (1-2), A O’Donnell; J McCullagh (0-1), C McCullagh, C McCrory. Substitutes: S Tierney (0-1) for C McCullagh (23 mins), R Lynch (0-2) for Bradley (36).

St Colman’s College Newry: M McNeice; S McGreevey, N Donnelly, R Lively; R Johnston, (0-2) P Hillen, P Lively; N McParland (Capt 0-2), C Gough; D O’Hare, C Clarke (0-2), C Mooney (1-2); C Stevenson (0-1), J Johnston (0-5), T McGreevy. Substitutes: R McGarry for O’Hare (37 mins), S McCartan for T McGreevy (47 mins).

Referee: Pat McEnaney (Monaghan).

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