St Mary’s, Magherafelt are chasing an elusive first MacRory Cup success

October 14, 2016

SATURDAY’S opening round clash with Patrician, Carrickmacross may not define this MacRory Cup campaign for St Mary’s, Magherafelt, but it will give them some indication of where they stand with the next 18 months in mind.

In last year’s Rannafast final, the Monaghan school became the first team to beat a highly-rated St Patrick’s, Maghera side since they began their school careers.

Up until Corn na nÓg level, it had been a derby between the two south Derry rivals which looked set to define that age group, though St Pat’s had begun to widen the gap.

“They beat us in the D’alton and Corn na nÓg finals,” says joint-manager Kevin Brady of their neighbours.

“They beat us well enough at Rannafast last year, but then they were beaten by Patrician Carrickmacross in the final. It’s them we play on Saturday at Pearse Óg in the first league game.

“They’re the current Rannafast champions, so they’ll be planning more for next year. They’re the first team to beat that wee Maghera team since first year.”

But with a strong handful of that team expected to make inroads in their first year at MacRory level, hopes are high for the Convent that they can produce their strongest year since narrowly losing a semi-final to eventual Hogan Cup winners St Colman’s in 2011.

The current crop reached the Rannafast final two years ago, beating neighbours St Pius’ in a novel and dramatic semi-final before succumbing to a five-point loss against St Macartan’s in the decider.

Led by Derry minors Declan Cassidy (Bellaghy) and Connor McCloskey (Magherafelt), they would have looked also to Antrim minor and Creggan pair Liam Quinn and Kevin Small had it not been for injury to the latter. The duo paired up inside on last year’s MacRory team.

Small, whose elder brother Conor also featured on recent St Mary’s MacRory teams, suffered a serious hand injury in a schools hurling match and is set to miss the whole of the group stage.

Quinn impressed for Antrim minors last year at corner-forward, cutting apart the Fermanagh defence in their Ulster Championship opener only to suffer an ankle injury late in that game.

Another Creggan native, Matthew Rodgers, and Moneyglass’s Sean Kelly will also be key players for joint managers Kevin Brady and John McElholm, the latter of whom is involved with Killyclogher’s backroom as they go in search of a Tyrone title.

A large batch of lower-sixth students will be expected to make inroads as well. Half-back duo Guiseppu Lupari and Eamon Kelly are among those to have come through the ranks, while Tiernach Donaghy will likely pair up with Declan Cassidy at midfield.

In Kildress forward Adam Connolly – another whose brother, Jonathan, left a recent impact on the same halls – and Magherafelt playmaker Simon McErlain, they have a pair to supply the bullets for the men inside.

When last year’s Rannafast Cup campaign ended, Brady was able to bring in a handful of those lads and give them a taste of the MacRory experience early. That could yet prove valuable as they look to negotiate their way out of a tough group laced with traditional heavyweights.

Finalists in 1996 and 2002, narrowly beaten semi-finalists in 2011, St Mary’s have at times been close to the elusive breakthrough on occasions, though truly competitive teams have not been an annual luxury.

Their hopes last year were dashed when then-holders St Patrick’s Cavan proved much too strong in a quarter-final playoff, though the Convent weren’t helped by being reduced to 14 men midway through the first half.

Cavan are in St Mary’s group this year along with fellow traditional heavyweight St Colman’s Newry and Omagh CBS. It all begins with Carrickmacross at Pearse Óg on Saturday morning in their bid to make it past Christmas.

And from there?

“Who knows? We’re hoping to certainly go a bit further than last year. With this group of players, we’d be looking to reach the latter stages of the competition, get into the quarters and see where you get from there. Everybody wants to win it, of course,” says Brady.

Séamas McAleenan Publish in Irish News 14th October 2016