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St Ciaran's eye All-Ireland trophy as icing on 50th anniversary cake

By John Campbell

On the weekend that Tyrone will bid to secure a place in the Allianz Football League Division One final, another team from the county will attempt to keep the Red Hands flag flying in a different sector.

Tomorrow, St Ciaran's College, Ballygawley will take on Ballinrobe Community School (Mayo) in the All-Ireland Colleges' 'B' final at Croke Park hoping to write another significant chapter in O'Neill County history.

It's a huge assignment for the Ballygawley seat of learning which has become one of the province's foremost GAA nurseries over the course of recent years.

Having charted a successful path through the Vocational Schools' sector, St Ciaran's moved up a bracket into the Colleges' sphere four years ago and since then they have attained considerable success.

The Treanor Cup was captured at U15 level and last year the Rafferty Cup was annexed before the major breakthrough on St Patrick's Day this year when the MacLarnon Cup was claimed for the first time.

Tomorrow sees the team step into the daunting arena that is Croke Park determined to put the icing on the school's 50th anniversary celebrations.

Joint coach Brendan Trainor stated: "To win the All-Ireland crown in this our golden jubilee year would be a tremendous achievement. Since moving up a grade four years ago, the school has enjoyed considerable success in an Ulster context but to land an All-Ireland would be extra special.

"We are going in against a Ballinrobe school that has a great pedigree in Colleges' football. They beat Presentation School, Athenry in the Connacht final and they also have something like half a dozen Mayo minor players in their side.

"They are a team accustomed to winning and that's the mind-set they will bring to Croke Park which certainly won't make things easy for us."

But while paying due regard to the reputation of the opposition, Trainor believes his own team's elevation within the Ulster sector has helped hone their skills and overall approach.

"I honestly believe if we play to our full potential we will not be too far away," he maintained. "I thought in the MacLarnon Cup final and in our All-Ireland semi-final we showed great character and we will certainly need to reveal this again."

Conor Quinn, Caoimhin O'Donnell, Daniel Miller, Callum Corrigan, Joseph Oguz and Cahair Quinn along with sharpshooter Darragh Canavan, son of Tyrone legend Peter, can help ignite the St Ciaran's bid for glory.

Canavan, who has been inspirational this year, believes that the team can respond to the demands of the occasion.

It was in the MacLarnon Cup final win over Or Lady's, Castleblayney that he was at his explosive best on St Patrick's Day and his team would relish a repeat of that tomorrow.

"I think we have shown that we are not afraid to face a challenge and we hope to prove this again. We have belief in our ability and we are getting great encouragement from our coaches. If we can get off to a good start that would be helpful and then we must maintain our concentration for the whole game," asserted Canavan.

The Ballinrobe side play a strong, physical, direct brand of football and are particularly well served at midfield where Nathan Moran is a central figure in their overall strategy.

In Thomas Conroy and Cathal Slattery they have two lively forwards who can be expected to pose problems for the St Ciaran's defence.

Trainor believes that the pace and work rate of the Connacht champions will ask big questions of his team, especially as the match progresses.

"Croke Park can make demands on players and we must be ready for this. While it is terrific to get the chance to play there, we want to maximise the opportunity and come away with a win if we can," he said.

"We want to do ourselves, Tyrone and Ulster proud. It's not often that school teams get the chance to play in Croke Park and we are grateful for this opportunity to show ourselves in the best possible light.

"We have grown in confidence and cohesion as the year has gone on but this is D-Day.

"The fact that the school is in its 50th year is a cause for celebration but to mark this milestone with an All-Ireland trophy success would be something else altogether, it would be the stuff of dreams."

Belfast Telegraph

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