St Mary's Magherafelt beat St Colman's Newry to win first MacRory Cup
St Mary's 0-19 : 0-13 St Colman's
St Mary's Magherafelt strode impressively into the history-books when they captured the coveted Ulster Colleges’ MacRory Cup for the first time at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Friday.
They may have had to exercise considerable patience in awaiting this success but the south Derry team certainly underpinned their qualities as worthy winners.
Exuding character, courage and skill in abundance, St Mary’s galloped over the final furlong after what was for the most part a tense affair to come out on top in some comfort.
Teamwork was very much the essence of their triumph, too. Here was an outfit in which every player knew his role and was prepared to give his last ounce of effort to the cause .
With skipper and player of the match Declan Cassidy giving a splendid lead, St Mary’s defended diligently, broke forward in numbers and, perhaps most tellingly, converted most of the chances that came their way.
Goalkeeper Odhrán Lynch produced three stupendous saves to keep St Colman’s at bay, Conor McCluskey and Matthew Loughran were defiance personified and Daniel Bradley and Kevin Small combined to chalk up eleven points between them in a master class in marksmanship.
An edgy first-half in which defences were on top was followed by a dynamic second period in which St Mary’s slowly but surely got the measure of their opponents before applying the killer punch..
St Mary’s just about deserved their 0-8 to 0-6 interval lead, Small and Bradley each pocketing two while Rian O’Neill and Aaron Gribben contributed a similar tally for the Newry side.
When the Bradley-Small alliance prospered further in the early stages of the second-half, visions of a historic feat began to form.
Yet there was never a hint of St Colman’s lobbing in the towel. O’Neill did his best to rally his troops, Conor O’Neill and Ryan Garvey strove manfully at midfield and Sean McCarthy tried to hold the defence together.
And their efforts looked to have borne fruit when their side nosed closer at 0-15 to 0-13 by their 52nd minute.
When St Mary’s engaged a higher gear, though, the outcome was never in doubt.
Impressive substitute Tiaran McAteer hit the target twice, Bradley and Small once more displayed their sublime finishing artistry and suddenly St Mary’s were ushered into seventh heaven.
For a school that had slumbered in the sporting shadows for too long, it was truly a red-letter day.
St Mary’s GS Magherafelt: O Lynch; C McCluskey, S Kelly, M Loughran; D Cassidy 0-1, C Devlin, E Kelly; K McCann, T Doherty 0-1; A Connolly 0-1, D Bradley 0-6 (4f), S McErlain; L Quinn 0-3, K Small 0-5, C Murphy. Subs: T McAteer 0-2 for McCann (43), M Rodgers for Connolly (58), J McCann for Kelly (58). Yellow cards: McCann (11), E Kelly (23).
St Colman’s College, Newry: M Magill; L Brown, S McCarthy, C Killen 0-1; F McElroy, M Branniff, P Fegan; C O’Neill 0-1, R Garvey; J McCartan 0-1, R O’Neill 0-4 (1f, 1’45’), E McDonnell 0-2; M McCreesh 0-1, C McConville 0-1 (f), A Gribben 0-2. Subs: E Byrne for McCreesh (34), R Carr for Braniff (37), C McCartan for Brown (48), J McKee for Killen (BC 53). Yellow cards: Garvey (31), McElroy (45).
Referee: Niall McKenna (Monaghan)
When St Mary's Magherafelt - commonly known to all who follow Ulster Schools' football as 'The Convent' - make their way through the gates of the Athletic Grounds this morning for the MacRory Cup final, they will do so with history on their minds.
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It would be wrong to describe any illustrious seat of learning as 'poor relations', but footballers from St Mary's could easily have developed a complex about themselves over the last half decade as Paul Hughes and St Patrick's Maghera have gone about dominating the competition.
Captain Declan Cassidy of Bellaghy knows that he is a mere hour of football away from immortality in the school.
"It's a massive privilege to captain a team into a final. I just try not to think about being captain too much," he emphasised.
"It has its duties, but just making sure the team are ready for tomorrow and that we all perform to the best we can is what it is all about really."
It's not hard to see why the management team of Kevin Brady and John McElholm have made him captain. And the admiration works both ways as Cassidy describes the expertise of his managers.
"It is one of the best management teams I have ever worked with. They have been absolutely dedicated to us," he said.
"The work they have put in has been… even analysing the teams as we have gone through, since we played in the play-off against St Michael's Enniskillen, it has been brilliant.
"You can see how much it means to them and we have Mr McElholm in there from the play-offs. He has experience in the final, they lost in 2003. We have come a long way."
14 years have passed and the school have not been able to celebrate a St Patrick's Day at a Schools' Cup final since. As a matter of fact, 2003 was their only big day out.
Up against St Colman's, a real blue-blood school, they can use that as motivation, he insists.
"We know there is history there to be made. It is not going to be something that we don't focus on. But we have confidence in ourselves. This is achievable, we know it can be done," he said.
"But at the back of our minds we would really love to make history."
As for the opposition, he added: "They play a kicking game, a good brand of football and that's the way they have been brought up. They have a couple of really good players. We need to be wary of them."
Take it as read.
St Mary's path to the final
St Mary's Magherafelt 0-12 St Michael's Enniskillen 1-5 Scorers: Daniel Bradley (0-5, all frees), Kevin Small (0-4, 3f) Liam Quinn (0-2, 1 '45), Adam Connolly (0-1)
St Mary's Magherafelt 3-4 Omagh CBS 1-9 Scorers: Kevin Small (2-3, 1f, 1pen), Declan Cassidy (1-0), Daniel Bradley (0-1, free)
St Mary's Magherafelt 1-12 St Paul's Bessbrook 1-12 Scorers: Daniel Bradley (0-5, all frees), Kevin Small (0-3, 1f), Adam Connolly (0-2), Declan Cassidy (0-1), Liam Quinn (1-0), Simon McErlain (0-1)
St Mary's Magherafelt 1-11 St Paul's Bessbrook 0-13 Scorers: Liam Quinn (1-0), Daniel Bradley (0-5, 4f), Kevin Small (0-2, 1f), Cormac Murphy (0-2) Tiernan McAteer (0-1), Conall Devlin (0-1)