Omagh CBS and St Paul’s, Bessbrook can progress to MacRory Cup semis

February 10, 2017

Danske Bank MacRory Cup quarter-finals

Friday, February 10 (7.30pm in Ballinderry): Omagh CBS v St Mary’s, Magherafelt

A FRIDAY night “home” game in the Loup a fortnight ago, ended St Patrick’s, Maghera’s dreams of holding on to the Danske Bank MacRory Cup and it will take huge performance from St Mary’s, Magherafelt tonight if the same fate is not to await them in Ballinderry.

The “Convent” were less than impressive in their play-off game in Rossa Park against St Michael’s, Enniskillen.

They failed to score from open play for the duration of the second half, indeed nine of their 12 points came from placed balls, and too many of their diagonal kick-passes around the half-forward line were easily intercepted.

However, the object was to get through and they did, while the tag of underdogs will surely suit them against Omagh.

Conall Devlin played a pretty effective role sitting in front of his full-back line and the defence in general was sound.

Adam Connolly and Simon McErlean got on to a lot of ball but there were few incisive moves in front of the posts, with Kevin Small perhaps lacking match sharpness after sitting out the league with a serious injury picked up in hurling.

Omagh really impressed in all their league games – bar the MacCormack Cup final when St Ronan’s shut them out and edged home on a 1-7 to 0-5 scoreline.

That result probably didn’t worry Kieran Donnelly too much as traditionally winning the MacCormack has not meant success will follow in the MacRory.

Omagh have a lot of options in the forward line and a number of players have blossomed on the scoreboard in different games, Cahair Goodwin, Peter óg McCartan, Aidan Donaghy and Tiarnan Murray, while Conor Turbitt shot two excellent points in driving forward from midfield in the Dub.

Neither has the Tyrone school’s defence been found wanting through the competition.

However, the forwards found it difficult to operate in the tight confines of the Dub against a packed St Ronan’s defence.

While Magherafelt are likely to set up with an extra defender in Devlin, the Loup is a bigger pitch and there should be more opportunity for the pacey Omagh attack to find openings.

The Enniskillen game will have helped St Mary’s but whether or not it is enough to see them over the line against an impressive Omagh team is the big question tonight.

Saturday, February 11, 12pm in Páirc Esler: Abbey CBS v St Paul’s, Bessbrook

A NEWRY derby in Páirc Esler will probably be savoured more by St Paul’s, Bessbrook than Abbey CBS.

St Paul’s may have appeared in two of the last four finals, but to many the Abbey represents MacRory tradition and that places expectation on their collective shoulders.

Bessbrook coach John Rafferty, a former teacher in Abbey, of course will savour the occasion but he will be well aware that an improvement will be needed on their last game played local in front of a pretty vocal support, the quarter-final qualifier against St Mary’s CBGS a fortnight ago.

They looked on course to an easy victory in that game when they hit the opening seven points and led by 1-9 to 0-4 at the break.

Somehow though they lost their way near the end, conceded two goals and needed a very late Shea Loye score to take the game to extra time where a penalty strike from Burren’s Liam Kerr took them through.

That they rescued themselves was probably down to experience and last year’s appearance in the final is standing be them. Nine of them started the MacRory final and Ryan Hughes came on as a sub. Those ten are leading the bid to reach successive deciders.

Conor Magennis, Eamon McCabe and Conor Clarke are strong in defence, and midfielder Damian O’Hagan is doing well beside new partner Zygimantas Burnickas, while all six forwards have final experience.

Abbey CBS, however, showed up better in the leagues and qualified for the MacCormack Cup semi-finals at the end of November where they were beaten 0-15 to 0-8 by Omagh.

They also defeated St Paul’s in a league match in mid-November, a hard-fought 1-10 to 0-11 victory – and this quarter-final will probably be just as tight.

Burren’s Ronan Fegan is Abbey’s top marksman this year while his clubmate Conor Cox and Mayobridge’s Shane Smyth have been impressive in defence. Others to catch the eye have been Lorcan Forde and Blain McGrath.

They can expect a strong challenge from St Paul’s; indeed I find this game hard to call because Abbey had the pre-Christmas form, but St Paul’s have last year’s experience and a game under their belts.

I think that Páirc Esler will bring out the best in both teams, but St Paul’s may come away from it the happier.

Séamas McAleenan published in the Irish News 10th February 2017