Masita GAA Post Primary Schools Preview
For much of their history, at least when it comes to Ulster senior colleges football, St Mary's Mageherafelt have sat in the shadows of other colleges.
Last Friday, however, they claimed the MacRory Cup for the first time beating St Colman's Newry by six points.
Captain Declan Cassidy says it was the culmination of his time at the school.
"I'm seven years here and waiting for this day from the first time I set foot in the school," he said.
"It's a massive privilege to captain a team like this and in Kevin Brady and John McElholm we have one of the best management teams I have ever worked with.
"They have been absolutely dedicated to us," he added. "The work they have put in - 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, when they lost in 2003. We have come a long way."
Former Antrim player and St Mary's manager Kevin Brady always knew there was serious potential in the current team.
14 years had passed since the school last made the St Patrick's Day MacRory Cup final; their only time to get to that stage.
Up against St Colman's, one of the giants of Ulster Colleges football, they were really up against it.
But Brady felt that the longer they worked with the players the more we saw other attributes come through.
"They are very gutsy and they came through a lot of hard games and that stood to us," he stated.
It certainly did. St Mary's had an arduous path to the final, beating St Michael's Enniskillen by four points in the play-offs, Omagh CBS in the quarter-final and St Paul's Bessbrook in the semi-final replay.
All before they dismantled St Colman’s, 0-19 to 0-13, to finally reach the Holy Grail.
Not for the first time, the dynamic attacking axis of Kevin Small and Daniel Bradley, who notched 11 points between them, was to the fore. So, too, was inspired leadership from their captain, Cassidy, while their goalkeeper Odhran Lynch pulled off a series of top-drawer saves.
The fact that they had never won the MacRory Cup in its 95-year history prior to last Friday could have gone against them - but the team management protected them from the hype.
“We didn’t make a big deal of the past,” Brady said.
“And while we didn't play to the standard we would have liked at the start, we came more into the game and overall I thought we were worthy winners.”
They don't have much time to bask in the glory of this win, however. On Wednesday (March 22) they tackle St. Peter’s College Wexford in the Hogan Cup semi-final.
St Peter’s themselves are still enjoying the warm afterglow of winning their first Leinster senior title in 25 years after beating Moate CS 2-13 - 0-7 at the end of January.
That win gave them only their second title at this level and man of the match Barry O’Connor (son of Wexford legend George) and Cathal Devereux were to the fore in getting over a resilient Moate CS side.
St Peter's are trained by Chris Thompson and Brian Malone, the Wexford football great, and they have a serious physical presence.
The Wexford college has enjoyed a long association with the GAA. One of their past pupils, PD Breen, a past pupil, was elected President of the GAA in 1924.
The 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s were the glory days of hurling in the college, with the first All-Ireland success at “A” level coming in 1962.
In all, St. Peter’s have won 4 All-Ireland and 8 Leinster Senior hurling titles and 1 Leinster football title.
Another family of past pupils with a close association with today’s game are the O’Connor’s brothers from the St. Martin’s club. George , Arthur, and John all played for St. Peter’s in the past while their sons Barry, Joe and Rory have all been heavily involved in recent seasons.
The college enters teams in the A grade at all levels in both hurling and football and boasts a state of the art pitch which was funded originally by the past pupils union and which underwent a major renovation in the summer of 2013.
Meanwhile, the Masita GAA All Ireland Post Primary Schools Paddy Drummond Cup (Senior B Football) semi-final also takes place on Wednesday at The Downs, Westmeath.
It features St. Mary's Academy Carlow CBS and St Ciaran's, Ballygawley who are on a high after winning their first Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup final recently.
St Ciaran’s had a 1-19 - 2-10 win over Our Lady’s Castleblayney in that match.
Our Lady's enjoyed an electrifying start to that final but St Ciaran’s Ballygawley worked their way back into the game and by half-time were well in contention, trailing by 2-8 to 0-11.
They edged ahead with a point from Thomas Hoy midway through the second half, but didn’t shake off Wilson and his comrades until a super late move was finished to the net by Callum Corrigan in the 60th minute of an exhilarating exhibition of attacking football.
St Ciaran’s joint manager Fionntan Devlin says there is huge spirit in the team.
“To get hit by that early hammer blow, playing on a big day like that and to come back takes character," he said.
"I thought the boys, 1-15, stood up and were counted."
They won't have it easy on Wednesday, however, against a St Mary's side that won it's first Drummond Cup only two years ago and have been working exceptionally hard to produce good sides in the last few years.