St Paul’s, Bessbrook manager John Rafferty realistic about MacRory chances

October 28, 2016

ST PAUL’S, Bessbrook may have a host of players back from last season’s McRory Cup campaign, but manager John Rafferty insists the school are realistic about their prospects in the competition.

The south Armagh school reached the final of the competition back in March but were well beaten by a rampant St Pat’s Maghera side who snaffled three goals in the opening quarter of the contest to eventually run out winners by 13 points.

Back in the ranks this time around are the likes of Declan and Shay Loye, Liam Kerr, Conor Clarke, Magennis twins Conor and Niall, Richie Keenan, Eamon McCabe and Damian O’Hagan.

“We have a fair sprinkling of the fellas who started the MacRory final, but Brother Ennis once told me a long, long time ago that it doesn’t matter what you have at the start of every year – what’s most important is what everybody else has,” said Rafferty.

“We have four or five fellas who take teams in St Paul’s and we’re realistic about the expectations of people in the area. They still look beyond us. They send their sons past St Paul’s on into the Grammar schools in Newry. But we’re realistic and we understand that our boys, given time and a bit of coaching, that they can be as competitive as anybody else.”

Rafferty also sounded a defiant note to anyone who feels that the relative newcomers to the competition do not belong there. They have been in the competition for four years and have been in two finals.

“Us being there, despite the rumblings within certain aspects of the colleges – it adds to the competition. We would have people who would – the word gets back to you – that [might say] – ‘what are we doing in it?’,” he said.

“We’re in it for the good of our youngsters and we make no apologies for it. It’s just as simple as that.”

St Paul’s were well beaten in last season’s MacRory Cup final by St Pat’s, Maghera, for whom Shane McGuigan  scored 2-4, but can still call upon the services of quite a number of players who featured in that campaign

St Paul’s have played just one game in the competition so far – losing quite heavily to St Ronan’s, Lurgan. Next up is a meeting in Silverbridge on Friday afternoon with St Macartan’s, Monaghan.

Rafferty is certain it will be another big challenge: “It will be a huge test for us given that they won the Rannafast two years ago,” he said.

“So by the time Saturday evening comes, we’ll have a fair indication of what work we have to do to be in the competition after Christmas.”

It’s 20 years since Rafferty first helped put players into MacRory cup action at the Abbey in Newry. He says he takes satisfaction from having coached players who are now standing on the line alongside him as St Paul’s continue to take their first tentative steps in the prestigious competition.

Also involved with him in football in St Paul’s are men such as Martin O’Rourke, Barry Shannon and Stephen Kearney. All three were MacRory Cup captains during Rafferty’s time in the Abbey.

“That in itself is brilliant,” he said.

“That’s testimony to the fact that the competition is a good competition. I just love standing on the line with the fellas that I coached when they were pupils at the Abbey.

“And now St Paul’s are very lucky, the school and the school’s population of boys in particular are very lucky, that those fellas have taken their experience as players and are now passing it on to these young fellas.”

The hugely experienced Rafferty, a PE teacher in St Paul’s, obviously continues to take delight in developing the footballing abilities of the youngsters in his care.

“You see lads coming in to you at 11-years-of-age and they’re wee and they’re only children coming in to you and they’re from wee tiny primary schools,” he said.

“And you get them, and you’re working, and you’re working and then by the time they get five or six years down the line, you see them up as big lumps of men, or just on the cusp of being big lumps of men, rattling into each other fair and square – the schools’ football is very special.

“At club level, you might get away with the odd mistake but once you get into this, especially after Christmas – you don’t get away with those mistakes which makes every passage of play really important at school level.”

Publish in The Irish News 28th October 2016