There is just no stopping St Colman’s College, Newry.
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Not only did they retain the BT MacRory Cup at the expense of a gallant St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon side in yesterday’s absorbing decider at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh but in the process they thrust themselves into pole position to claim the All-Ireland Colleges’ Hogan Cup crown for a second successive year.
Cathal Murray’s well-drilled side may have lived dangerously on occasions, never more so than when the Academy pirated their second goal through substitute Aidan McGarrity late in the second half, but they held their composure and their nerve in a tense finish to get over the line by the narrowest of margins.
And if St Colman’s thrived as a unit, then the input of the Johnston siblings was crucial to victory.
Brothers Ryan and Jerome, sons of Jerome Snr, who is part of James McCartan’s Down management team, turned in five-star performances in their respective roles.
While the strong-running Ryan garnered vital first-phase possession in midfield, Jerome revealed the kind of finishing skills that would do justice to the senior inter-county arena.
Yet, even they were overshadowed by the man-of-the-match display of full-back Niall Donnelly, while Caolan Mooney’s two superb goals inflicted mortal damage on the Academy’s morale.
It was the Academy who dominated in the first quarter, with corner-forwards Liam Gervin and Dwayne Quinn intelligently creating space up front.
Indeed, Gervin might well have enjoyed a rich haul of scores in the opening 10 minutes had his eighth-minute thunderbolt not come back off the upright.
As it was, the Derrylaughan club player had to content himself with two points in this period before Kiefer Morgan landed the Dungannon side’s third score, Jerome Johnston having earlier opened the scoring for St Colman’s.
And when Quinn hoisted the Academy into a three-point lead in the 13th minute, the Dungannon side gave every indication of taking control of the contest.
But two minutes later they were halted in their tracks.
When Jerome Johnston fed Mooney, the St Colman’s wing-forward cut in sharply from the left and slammed a superb shot past helpless Academy goalkeeper Mark McReynolds.
However, St Colman’s relief lasted all of four minutes. When Quinn and Stefan Lavery linked cleverly, the opening was created for Harry Og Conlon who swept home a superb goal to put the Academy 1-4 to 1-1 ahead.
Yet, both Jerome Johnston and Mooney struck points in the 22nd and 25th minutes before the former completed a three-point personal haul in the 28th minute to ensure his side enjoyed parity at the half-time (1-4 each).
When the Academy nosed into a 1-7 to 1-5 lead by the 40th minute through a further Gervin point and one each from Ryan Devlin and Quinn, they clearly had the scent of success in their nostrils.
But, yet again, St Colman’s resilience surfaced. When Mooney hoisted over a 40th-minute point, this triggered a 10-minute spell of dominance that was to prove crucial to the outcome.
It was Mooney again who drilled in St Colman’s second goal in the 43rd minute, before Jack Haughey and substitute Patrick Morgan fired over points to put the Newry side 2-8 to 1-7 ahead.
The Academy, though, had no intention of raising the white flag. Substitute McGarrity had hardly entered the fray before he netted a superb goal.
Yet, although the Academy had chances, they were uncharacteristically off-key in their finishing, even when referee Barry Cassidy awarded them kickable frees.
It was left to St Colman’s Shay McArdle and the hard-working Gervin to trade points in the dying minutes as the Newry side held on to extend their tenure as Ulster colleges’ kingpins for another year.