Maghera title defence faces stiff examination
St Patrick's College, Maghera can take a giant step towards enhancing Ulster's recent glowing record in the All-Ireland Colleges football sphere tomorrow.
The south Derry seat of learning will meet Dublin and Leinster champions Coláiste Eoin in the Hogan Cup semi-final at Pairc Esler, Newry (2.00pm) anxious to replicate the achievement of another famous Ulster GAA nursery.
St Colman's College, Newry won the MacRory and Hogan Cups in 2010 and 2011 and now the Maghera side, having retained the MacRory Cup on St Patrick's Day when they beat Omagh CBS, find themselves within 60 minutes of another Hogan Cup final appearance.
But any notion that the Hogan Cup holders' achievements over the past year will smooth the path to victory tomorrow is quickly dismissed by coach Paul Hughes.
"We are going in against a Coláiste Eoin side that has been very impressive in winning their Dublin and Leinster titles," says Hughes.
"In Conn Ó Ceallacháin they have a forward who is scoring for fun and the team will represent a massive challenge to our ambition of trying to do the 'double double' just as St Colman's did," points out Hughes.
"We started our preparations immediately after the MacRory Cup final and God bless the Internet, we have been able to assimilate information on Coláiste Eoin.
"They are an outstanding team, a well-balanced outfit who play an attacking game.
"Getting one over on these boys will not be easy for us especially with Dublin football on the crest of a wave at the minute."
Ó Ceallacháin scored nine points when Coláiste Eoin defeated Marist College, Athlone in the Leinster final and is a key member of the Dublin minor squad.
But the Leinster champions are by no means a one-man show. Colm Ó Neill, Enda Ó Lorcáin and Fioin Ó Rian Broin are other outstanding players in a team that has played with skill and panache.
Hughes, though, believes his St Patrick's side has the weaponry to cope with the challenge.
Conor Glass and Conor Cassidy form a strong midfield, Danny Tallon, Conor Convery and Paul Gunning form a dynamic full-forward line and Oisin Hegarty and Peter Hagan provide the central spine of a resolute defence.
Glass is regarded as one of the best young footballers in the province but remains adamant that St Patrick's will have to step up on their MacRory Cup final performance.
"It was an unbelievable feeling to have won back to back MacRory titles but we now want to go on and win the double again. It's a terrific feeling to be going into a match like this and we plan to do ourselves justice," says Glass.