MacRory Cup foes Joe McMahon and Ciaran O'Reilly take a trip down memory lane

Joe McMahon recalls how a MacRory Cup winner's medal eluded him ahead of Omagh CBS's final showdown with St Michael's, Enniskillen later this month
Seamas McAleenan

OMAGH CBS and St Michael’s Enniskillen are lined up to face each other in the Danske Bank MacRory Cup final on March 18. St Michael’s have five outright victories and Omagh two. Eighteen years ago they shared the 2001 title and then faced each other in the following year’s final. Séamas McAleenan looks back at those two campaigns with Joe McMahon and Ciaran O’Reilly who each played in both finals...

ST PATRICK’S Armagh, St Macartan’s Monaghan and St Malachy’s Belfast shared the 1925 MacRory Cup title because the competition was run on a league basis and the three schools finished level.

The league format was changed in favour of a knock-out championship for the 1935 competition and since then it has delivered its champion each year – except for 2001 when St Michael’s Enniskillen and Omagh CBS played out a draw (1-11 to 2-8) in Casement Park later than usual on Monday 2nd April.

Sporting fixtures were continue to tip-toe around the foot and mouth disease problems on the island and eventually the replay was pencilled in for Saturday 14th April. However an outbreak in Ardboe area led to the cancellation of the game on the morning. It was never replayed and the schools shared the title.

A year later the same two schools again reached the final. This time St Michael’s Enniskillen were convincing winners, 1-12 to 1-5, after leading by 0-6 to 0-1 at the break.

Future Tyrone All-Ireland star Joe McMahon played for the Brothers both years and claims both were equally disappointing.

“We should have had the drawn game in 2001 in the bag,” the St Enda’s clubman recalled.

“We were maybe six or seven points ahead, playing with the wind and coasting and then St Michael’s threw caution to the wind and came back at us. They had nothing to lose, picked up momentum and just kept creeping closer and we kept falling back into ourselves.

“Then it was all over, a draw and you know what a draw is like any time. The crowd go quiet. We knew that we had thrown a chance away. But worse was to come.

“I was in the Sacred Heart chapel in Omagh when news started to go round that the replay later that day was off. Then the second part was worse, Enniskillen were to represent Ulster in the Hogan.”

Enniskillen corner-forward and goal-scorer Ciaran O’Reilly was also very disappointed that the replay never happened and still is.

“That match was postponed and we were nominated to play St Jarlath’s Tuam in the Hogan Cup semi-final. That took our attention off the postponement alright, but after we were beaten in the Hogan, we were back wondering if the MacRory replay would happen.

“We felt that we had under-performed especially during the first half. Just before half-time, I scored a goal and it lifted us going into the changing rooms. It definitely gave us a badly needed boost because it gave Dom (Dominic Corrigan, the coach) something to cling on to,” the Teemore Shamrocks’ clubman recalled.

“St Michael’s had won the 1999 final, lost the 2000 one and Dom used that experience to re-organise us and our captain Paul Gunn, who was playing in his third final, moved from full-back to midfield. We felt that we had retrieved a bad situation and would have been a lot better in the replay.”

As time wore on the school authorities ruled out the possibility of playing after the exams. They wanted “minimum disruption of the exams” (J. A. Walshe’s book “The MacRory Cup”).

“Certainly it would have been worse if we hadn’t got the chance to play in the Hogan,” reasoned O’Reilly. “If we had been in Omagh’s shoes, it would have been devastating.”

The Teemore man was to play a key role in 2002, once again scoring a goal in the final and for the second year in a row ending up top-scorer with 1-2.

“We had several boys who, like me, were playing in their second final. While there would have been more expectation on those boys in a second final, we could handle it better and I didn’t feel the same nerves, the same pressure or trepidation as the year before and we seemed to play like that too.”

St Michael’s took control during the first half and Omagh only scored once before the break.

Joe McMahon was the Omagh captain for 2002. He felt that Enniskillen were that little bit “cuter”.

“We just couldn’t get a grip of the game. They were able to close out our players, Shaun Doherty was excellent.

“But we scored a goal shortly after half time, Cathal Nicholas. I remember I staved a finger in the run up to the goal and had to go down for treatment that took a couple of minutes and I suppose those couple of minutes took the sting out of the goal.”

O’Reilly agreed.

“Shortly after play re-started we got our goal and I really can’t remember us being under real pressure for the rest of the game.

“We went on to beat Dundalk Colleges in Clones and we were a pretty confident team by this stage. But the Hogan final was over before it started really.

“Michael Meehan was superb in it, he got an early goal and they just won easily. Four or five of those boys were in the Galway senior team within a couple of years.”

Both McMahon and O’Reilly went on to Third Level, McMahon to St Mary’s where he became friendly with 2002 winning captain Ryan Keenan and Niall Gormley, while O’Reilly played with Queen’s alongside Omagh’s Ciaran Shiels and Joe McCarroll.

The unplayed replay of 2001 often featured in conversation then and now. And whenever it does, there is a tinge of regret that it was never properly concluded.

Joe McMahon’s younger brother Conor won MacRory and Hogan medals with Omagh CBS in 2007.

“He keeps reminding me that I have half a MacRory medal.”

2001 MacRory Cup final played Monday 18 March: St Michael's Enniskillen 1-11 Omagh CBS 2-8: Title shared

St Michael's Enniskillen: Mark Murphy, Sean McCaffrey, Paul Gunn capt, Ciarán Smith, Kevin Murphy, Peter Sherry, Stephen Burns, James Sherry, Niall McVeigh, Benny Reilly, Shaun Doherty, Ciarán O'Reilly, Niall Gormley, Damien Shannon, Ryan Keenan

Sub: Michael Cunningham

Omagh CBS: Niall Hughes, Dermot Carlin, Edward O’Gara, Seán Coyle, Martin Conway, Cormac McAleer capt, Anthony McGonagle, Michael Garry, Joe McMahon, Austin Donaghy, Mark McCullagh, Aidan McCarron, Leo Meenan, Jude Hans, Mark Donnelly

Sub: Dara Tierney.

Referee: Brendan Gorman (Armagh)

2002 MacRory Cup final played Monday 18 Mar 2002: St Michael's Enniskillen 1-12 Omagh CBS 1-5

Winning captain: Ryan Keenan (Tempo Maguire’s, Fermanagh)

Winning coach: Dominic Corrigan

Venue: Casement Park, Belfast

Iggy Jones Man Of The Match: Shaun Doherty (St Michael's Enniskillen)

St Michael's Enniskillen: Christopher Breen, Niall Bogue, Proinsias O'Kane, Paul Johnson, Paddy Magee, Damian Shannon, Conor Foy, James Sherry (0-3), Shaun Doherty, Michael Cunningham (0-1), Shane O'Brien (0-1), Ciarán O'Reilly (1-2), Paul Ward (0-1, free), Ryan Keenan capt. (0-2), Brendan Gallagher

Subs: Kevin Murphy (0-1) for C Foy, Kevin Gallagher (0-1) for B Gallagher, Niall McVeigh for S O'Brien, Stephen Burns for P Magee, Paul Hueston for M Cunningham.

Referee: Brendan Gorman (Armagh)

Omagh CBS: Christopher Green, Barry McGill, Dermot Carlin, Seán Coyle, Niall Bradley, Edward O’Gara, Mark McKenna, Joe McMahon capt. (0-1), John McPeake, Joseph McCarroll (0-2, frees), Ciarán Garry, Joseph Ball (0-1), Ciarán Shields, Mark Donnelly (0-1), Cathal Nicholas (1-0)

Sub: Raymond McGinley for C Garry

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