Downpatrick make MacRory appearance, 40 years ago

July 10, 2020

St Patrick’s Downpatrick

1966 : St Columb’s Derry 3-5 St Patrick’s 3-3

St Patrick’s Downpatrick is another small Down school that has enjoyed five MacLarnon successes over the years (including 2019) – but their only MacRory final appearance came 40 years before Kilkeel’s.

Future All-Ireland medallist and double All-star Colm McAlarney was in midfield for the Red High when they bettered their 1965 semi-final loss to St Michael’s Enniskillen by reaching the 1966 final.

“We were going well that year alright. We beat St Colman’s in a quarter-final by 3-10 to 0-7. Remember most of that St Colman’s team went on to win the Hogan the following year.

“St Columb’s had won the Hogan in ’65 and a few of those boys were still around in ’66; Tom Quinn at midfield, Matt Trolan in goals, Colum P (Mullan) and then up front Barney (Brendan) Mullan and Tony O’Doherty.

“That bit of experience was probably the feather that tilted the scales for them when you look back on that game. There was little in it; they would go ahead, then we pulled them back.”

St Columb’s looked in control early in the second half when Brendan Mullan scored their second goal with a “screamer” from 30 yards out. But McAlarney took over at midfield and goals from Mickey Breen, Tom Kelly and then Anthony King put the Red High two points ahead.

“Mullan pointed a free for them but we were still leading by a point with four minutes to go when the referee gave them a penalty. I will still question the validity of the award, because Barney seemed to fall over himself in the square.”

Downpatrick had already replaced their goalie Dermot Doran with Gerry O’Reilly – but it was centre-half back Ray McConville that went into goals to face Mullan.

“That was a pre-planned move. (Manager) Bro Justin felt he could trust Ray’s quick reflexes. But Mullan gave him no chance. PJ McEvoy scored a point to close the gap, but Mullan pointed a late free.”

McAlarney and Liam Sloan got their revenge on a few of those boys, including Brendan Mullan, by beating Derry in the first round of the Ulster minor championship on their way to an All-Ireland final defeat to Mayo, while McAlarney and McConville were stars two years later as Down collected their third senior All-Ireland.

“I still cringe when I think of that penalty award. But Derry’s experience from the previous year – and winning the All-Ireland minor – that helped them a lot. So did the fact that they were boarders and could train regularly.

“We were a day school and, as such, we couldn’t organise after school training with so many buses involved. We squeezed in a couple of session before the final though and I can remember taking my father’s Vespa scooter the 15 miles to school and, after training, heading home to Leitrim with PJ McEvoy as pillion passenger.”

St Eunan’s Letterkenny

1956 St Macartan’s Monaghan 2-7 St Eunan’s 2-6

1959 Abbey CBS 3-7 St Eunan’s 1-3

1961 St Patrick’s Cavan 1-13 St Eunan’s 0-5

A Latin teacher was responsible for St Eunan’s moving from MacRory occasional participants to contenders during a short period in the 1950s.

John Wilson had won All-Ireland medals with his native Cavan including in the Polo Grounds final in New York in 1947.

St Eunan’s had first played MacRory Cup football in the 1930s but their geographical location inhibited their participation down through the years; some years they played a game or two, other years they didn’t. But Wilson had them fully involved in the 1955-56 season.

They demolished St Malachy’s Belfast in an early round but lost to St Macartan’s and only reached the final on score-difference, edging out St Patrick’s Cavan.

Backed by a gale-force wind St Macartan’s totted up an interval lead of 2-5 to no score.

In the second half Paddy Ward and Brian O’Donnell took over at midfield and goals from John Campbell and Frank Gannon closed the gap so that the sides were level with five minutes to go.

Gabriel Murray however popped up for the winning point as St Macartan’s claimed their ninth and last title.

It was to be the closest St Eunan’s would get. Four of the team were selected on the interprovincial schools’ team – Harry Strain, Sean Halpin, Ward and Campbell – with Campbell, goalie Sean Ferriter and captain Antoin McGettigan going on to feature for Donegal seniors over the next decade and a half.

The 1959 final was played in Omagh and the teams travelled by train. St Eunan’s were without their star forward Peter Sweeney and struggled for scores, hitting 11 wides and just a point in the first half.

Tony McDevitt scored their goal in the third quarter to narrow the gap to three points, but Abbey responded with two quick goals and the Donegal side were gone.

There was an even more emphatic score-line in the 1961 final against St Patrick’s Cavan in Irvinestown, as they were outplayed by Phil Brady, Ray Carolan, Jimmy Stafford and Paddy McNamee.

For the Sentry Hill boys only John McMenamin, Hugh McBride and Charlie Kavannagh shone.

John Wilson took up a post in Gonzaga College in Dublin midway through that campaign – although he returned to supervise training and games at the weekend. Later he was to enter politics for Fianna Fáil, serving as TD for Cavan Monaghan 1973 – 1993, the latter three years as Tánaiste.

Since then St Eunan’s have been more comfortable in the MacLarnon Cup which they have won on five occasions. They reached a MacRory semi-final just over a decade ago with Michael Murphy as captain. The Wilson years were their best.

Monaghan CBS

1935  St Patrick’s Cavan 7-11 Monaghan CBS 0-0

This was the first ever MacRory final, the Cup being awarded to winners of a league in earlier years. It was also Monaghan’s first year playing football, Cavan’s first title and the most emphatic of all MacRory Cup final score-lines.

Tom Canning, Paddy Smith and John Joe O’Reilly were the Cavan stars while “Farmer, Flanagan, Clerkin, Smith, McEntee, Cooney and McEnaney made a good uphill fight” for CBS.

The competition format was flawed in that the stronger diocesan colleges (St Macartan’s, St Colman’s, Cavan and Armagh) were all in Group A and Monaghan CBS emerged from a much weaker Group B.

In many ways it was a huge achievement for CBS to reach the final in their first year, with a lower age profile of player and with their neighbours St Macartan’s being so dominant during that period and after.

The school continued to participate in competitions right up until its closure in 1984.

“Our final took place before a county match in O’Neill Park, Down v Tyrone. You had the support from each of the schools, but the Down support also arrived early to see us. That was my first big crowd – around nine or ten thousand. That was a huge experience,” Colm McAlarney.