MacRory Cup: St Pat's College Maghera beat St Paul's Bessbrook
St Pat's 5-7 St Paul's 1-9
St Patrick's Maghera produced a dominant performance in today's MacRory Cup final to beat St Paul's Bessbrook 5-7 to 1-9 at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh.
Right from the start St Pat's took control scoring a point before a minute had elapsed. St Paul's had no answer as the Maghera boys continued to show their class taking a 4-4 to 0-5 half-time lead.
St Paul's rallied after the break but never at any stage did St Pat's look under pressure and ran out comfortable winners in the end.
Ahead of the tie, St Paul's coach John Rafferty's memories of the 2013 Dankse Bank MacRory Cup final remain all too vivid.
In that game, his team suffered an agonising one-point defeat at the hands of St Patrick's College, Maghera (2-5 to 0-10) which denied them what would have been their first taste of top-flight honours in the Ulster Colleges' sector.
Yet while disappointment was the team's lot, Rafferty clearly felt then that they had laid down a marker for the future.
And his belief has been vindicated now that the team are back once more in today's decider against the same opponents, still with the scent of ambition in their nostrils.
In their surge through the competition to date, the Bessbrook side have provided ample proof that they have learned from past experience.
And the straight-talking Rafferty, who brings the same intensity and passion to his coaching role as he did to his involvement as a player with Armagh, is anxious to see them make the big breakthrough on this occasion despite what he feels are the brickbats which are hurled at the GAA at all levels.
"I look forward to both teams getting the opportunity to display all that is good about our game at a time when many criticise the huge efforts of players and coaches alike," said Rafferty.
"The important thing is that the boys do themselves justice and if everyone feels they have done that, this will represent further progress for the school."
Skipper Jarlaith Óg Burns has been recovering following an injury sustained in the semi-final win over St Ronan's, Lurgan but is expected to be in the vanguard of the south Armagh school's bid to create their own little piece of history.
To do so, though, they will have to get the better of a St Patrick's College, Maghera side that won the trophy in 2013 and 2014 before being knocked off their perch by St Patrick's College, Cavan last year.
Their captain Conor Glass is shortly due to embark on a career in Australian Rules Football with Hawthorn but is anxious to leave these shores with another MacRory Cup medal in his pocket given that he will not be in action for Derry at minor level this summer.
The 18-year-old Glen clubman has won three Derry and Ulster club minor titles with the Watty Grahams team, as well as two MacRory Cups and a Hogan Cup with his school. He also helped guide Derry to an Ulster minor title last year.
While St Patrick's track record will send them into this contest as favourites, Glass makes no secret of the fact that one element of his team's performances to date could unhinge their drive for glory.
"We have tended to make slow starts and in our semi-final against St Patrick's Academy we only got our act together at half-time and turned up the heat after the break," pointed out Glass.
"I don't think we can afford to do that against St Paul's because they showed in the second-half against St Ronan's that they can stick the pace."
Glass is one of several highly-decorated players in the Maghera side, the others being Jack Doherty, Shane McGuógan and Francis Kearney while goalkeeper Sean Ó Caiside has proved himself to be one of the best in the colleges' sector.
Indeed, it was a superb last-minute save by the agile Ó Caiside that helped Maghera to hurdle the Academy.
Paddy Quigg is also a key member of a side that plays strong, attacking football with Glass normally the fulcrum of their attacking strategy.
St Paul's are not short on individual talent either, of course. While Burns is in essence the heartbeat of the side, Liam Kerr and Shea Loye represent a cutting edge that can inflict wounds on the St Patrick's back division.
Against St Ronan's, the duo racked up 0-13 between them and were assisted in the task of demolishing their rivals' morale by Ryan Gaskin and Aaron Boyle.
But while St Paul's have gained in maturity and boast a work ethic that will stand them in good stead, the notion persists that Glass will be heading Down Under boosted by yet another honour in what has been a stellar career at under-age level.