MacRory Cup: St Mary's out for two in a row as St Ronan's bid to spoil final party
The surprise factor has certainly been ingrained in this season's Danske Bank Ulster College MacRory Cup and it is perhaps appropriate that it should be manifest once again in today's final.
If St Ronan's College, Lurgan can be viewed to have upset the formbook and roared through to the Ulster Colleges' showpiece fixture which will be staged at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh (1.15), then the manner in which opponents and current holders St Mary's GS Magherafelt humbled their neighbours St Patrick's College, Maghera in their semi-final set tongues wagging far beyond the confines of south Derry.
The Magherafelt side, under the capable baton of former Antrim ace Kevin Brady, came of age last year when they captured the silverware for the first time and back-to-back triumphs is now their goal this afternoon.
They may have flirted with danger en route to the semi-finals, but by half-time against a deflated Maghera they had already bagged half of what was to be a six-goal haul and had firmly planted one foot in the decider.
A final score of 6-7 to 1-13 only materialised because the Brady bunch lifted their foot slightly from the accelerator to allow their beleaguered opponents to escape with a semblance of respectability but such leniency is unlikely to be forthcoming against a St Ronan's side which only secured their passport into the final via an injury-time goal from Eoin McConville against a gallant St Patrick's GS, Armagh side in a rousing last-four tie.
St Mary's fusion of pace, power and physicality has served them well to date and while their cohesive efficiency underpins their game-plan, then individual flair seldom fails to illuminate matches with Odhran Lynch, Daniel Bradley, Cormac Murphy, Ciaran Doyle, Conall Devlin, Tiarnach Donaghy, Liam Quinn and Simon McErlain invariably to the fore.
Nor are St Ronan's, comparatively new kids on the MacRory Cup block as they are, without their own ration of style and flair.
Eoin McConville scored 1-7 in their semi-final win, Leo Montiero is a more than useful target man, Adam Loughran possesses sleek skills, Jamie Haughey is unyielding in his efforts and Tiarnan Kelly links play to good effect.
St Ronan's have grown palpably in belief under the enthusiastic tutelage of coach Mickey Donnelly as they have continued their journey through the competition and will certainly not harbour any element of an inferiority complex.
Donnelly, former manager of the Tyrone minor side and currently in charge of the Derry U17, team, brings boundless commitment to his role with St Ronan's and this has certainly translated itself to the players as they target what would be a big step in Ulster colleges history.
The character, concentration and tenacity they displayed in their semi-final over their fellow orchard county opponents spoke volumes for the side and suggests that they won't be too far away today.
At the same time, though, the fact that St Mary's have already mastered the art of winning a final and have shown such convincing form in their superb semi-final goal-fest leads to the theory that they might take custody of the blue riband of Ulster Colleges football for another year at least.
Meanwhile, Holy Trinity College, Cookstown and St Eunan's, Letterkenny will meet in the MacLarnon Cup final (11.15), a match that is also scheduled for the Athletic Grounds.
The Tyrone side had a comfortable 5-7 to 0-7 semi-final win over Our Lady and St Patrick's College, Knock while St Eunan's were pushed all the way by Scioileanna Inis Eoghain in the other 'semi' before coming out on top by 2-12 to 2-10.
Holy Trinity will look to players such as Tiarnan Mackle, Shane Murphy, Shane Murphy, Conor Donnelly and Mark Devlin to fire up their challenge while St Eunan's have quality in Pauric McGettigan, Shane McDevitt, Brian Diver, Conor O'Donnell and Oisin Purdy.
O'Donnell is a particularly hot scoring forward, a player who is comfortable on the ball and can finish with aplomb - the kind of player indeed who can help swing the pendulum in his team's favour.
Holy Trinity, where Tyrone All-Ireland legend Peter Canavan has had a marked influence in fashioning the careers of so many young players over the course of recent years, have an enviable track record of success in the Ulster Colleges sphere and they might just enhance this further tomorrow.