September 30, 2020

THERE will be no outright winner of the 2019-2020 Danske Bank MacRory and MacLarnon Cups following a decision made by an emergency meeting of the Ulster Schools’ GAA late on Monday evening.

Back in early July when the GAA season got up and running the Council had announced their intention to play the finals over the weekend of Friday 9th and Saturday 10th October before the start of the inter-county minor championship.

However following the hike in positive cases in recent weeks an Emergency meeting via teleconference was called for Monday evening and the finals shelved.

A brief statement released early yesterday explained the decision :
“These difficult decisions were taken in light of the current deterioration in the public health situation and the increased transmission of Covid-19 within our communities.

“As a result, the 2019/20 Danske Bank MacRory Cup will be shared between St Patrick’s Maghera and St Colman’s Newry and the 2019/20 Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup will be shared between Our Lady’s & St Patrick’s Knock and St Pius X Magherafelt.

“Ulster Schools GAA will continue to monitor the situation over the coming weeks with regards to the commencement of the 2020/21 season, but will at all times be guided by direction from Ulster GAA, government and public health authorities.”

Ulster Schools GAA Chairman Jimmy Smyth added:

“The recent upsurge in Covid-19 means that the education sector is facing unprecedented challenges at present. We all have a public duty to help contain this virus and prevent its transmission, and it is in this context that we have taken this decision.”

Many of the players who would have been involved in both finals have since moved on to university presenting many challenges for the schools in terms of preparation and it is understood that insurance cover for these players to play for their schools had only been finalised last Friday.

However the surge in positive cases among university students in recent weeks had presented the schools and the Council with additional concerns.
Cathal Murray from MacRory Cup finalists St Colman’s Newry wanted to record his thanks to the Council for all their efforts to make a final happen, but felt there were too many obstacles to overcome.

“I don’t know about Maghera or the MacLarnon schools but getting any preparation done was proving a nightmare. You had club competitions coming to a head, collective training was a problem, many players now in university. There were just too many obstacles.
“I feel for the players. The MacRory is a dream for every youngster in our school who plays football. This year’s panel came within touching distance of playing the final in March and had that snatched from them. Then there was the hope it could still happen and now that has gone too.
“Academically it has been a very difficult year too, preparing for exams that didn’t take place. So these young men have had a lot to deal with.”

St Patrick’s Maghera joint managers Paul Hughes and Sean Marty Lockhart issued a statement on behalf of the school in which they “complimented Ulster Schools’ for their very responsible decision, in what have been, and continue to be, very uncertain circumstances”.
They acknowledged the efforts made to make the fixture a possibility and the obvious disappointment for all involved.
“The MacRory Cup has always played a massive role in the St. Patrick’s sporting tradition and the biggest disappointment perhaps, is for the players themselves, many of whom were U6th pupils who have not been able to enjoy, to completion, the journey that MacRory has been for so many generations of our pupils.
“The boys will however remember the work, enthusiasm and teamwork that they brought to their 2019/20 campaign and we will always be proud of how this team carried themselves through the competition, and the quiet dignity with which they have accepted that, in the present situation, the good health of everyone becomes paramount.

“We look forward to working again with Ulster Schools’ Council as we strive to plot a way into and through the upcoming season … We all know the value of school sport and recognise the part it can play for our pupils as we hopefully begin to emerge from the effects of the pandemic.”

There was perhaps an even greater sense of disappointment at the cancellation from the two schools involved in the Danske Bank MacLarnon final.

Our Lady’s and St Patrick’s Knock had qualified for the final for the first time ever while St Pius X Magherafelt were hoping for just a second title just over a decade on from their breakthrough win in 2010.
Both schools expressed their disappointment but fully understood the need to make the call.

“We here in Our Lady’s and St Patrick’s are bitterly disappointed as those weeks back in March had created a great sense of expectation ahead of our first ever MacLarnon final,” said Liam McKenna.

“Since then there has been a surge in interest from our feeder club recently with Carryduff reaching a first Down senior final, Bredagh reaching the quarter-finals and St Paul’s Hollywood winning the Junior title and you also had St Bridget’s and Bredagh in minor finals. Interest in the GAA has never before been at this level in our area.

“In hindsight the schools’ Council will probably take a bit of flak for giving us that glimmer of hope at the start of the summer that the game could take place. But I think that it was important we got something to look forward to back when there was no sport at all.

“However yesterday’s decision is the right one for the situation we find ourselves in now.”

Pádraig O’Kane from opponents St Pius X Magherafelt agreed.

“Yes it was the right decision. Preparation was not what you would want for a final like this and with crowd restrictions etc it was never going to be the sense of occasion for the school nor what the boys had dreamt about and put so much preparation into over the winter.

“We are very disappointed of course, but there is the bigger picture and I know that our boys will look back very fondly on their MacLarnon Cup campaign from last autumn through to when the pin was pulled a couple of days before the final in March.

“Hopefully that journey they made through the winter will help them make strides in their everyday life.”