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MacRory Cup rivals Eugene McKenna and Gerry McGinnity take a trip down memory lane

Tyrone's Eugene McKenna, pictured here being tackled by Joe Kernan, won a MacRory Cup in his last year with Omagh CBS
Séamas McAleenan

Omagh CBS and St Michael’s Enniskillen are lined up to face each other on Monday in the Danske Bank MacRory Cup final. Already St Michael’s have five outright victories and Omagh two while they shared the 2001 title. Remarkably they have met each other in four of those nine years, and two of those ended in draws.

With Eugene McKenna and Gerry McGinnity, Séamas McAleenan looks at the back-to-back campaigns of 1973 and 1974. During that period the schools played each other five times and each ended with their first MacRory Cup title...

THE 1973 MacRory Cup final was the last time two teams took to the field each in search of their school’s very first title.

Omagh CBS were in their first-ever final; indeed, no Tyrone school had reached the final prior to that (it would be another 18 years before St Patrick’s Academy Dungannon would pick up the trophy in their maiden final).

St Michael’s, however, had lost four finals: 1965 to St Columb’s Derry and then three-in-a-row 1968-70, twice to St Colman’s Newry and in 1970 to St Malachy’s Belfast.

Future Tyrone and Fermanagh county stalwarts, Eugene McKenna and Gerry McGinnity, started the '73 final as defenders before facing each other a year later as midfielders.

“We played St Michael’s in a league play-off in Trillick about a month or six weeks before the final and we (Omagh CBS) won. It was a tempestuous affair really,” recalled McKenna.

“We had a good few of the Tyrone team that had played in the 1972 minor team, including my brother Dessie and things went well for us in the quarter-final and semi-final and there was a good bit of excitement in the school coming up to the final.”

Apart from the final, Gerry McGinnity doesn’t remember too much about the '73.

“I was a Lower sixth on the St Michael’s team and that team had come through winning the Corn na nÓg and Rannafast titles," said McGinnity.

"I didn’t play in the Corn na nÓg and was doing well to hold a place on the Rannafast team. I suppose when you are a younger player on an older team you just play away and hope you do well.

“Yes, we lost in Trillick but I don’t remember anything more. I do recall that was the day Dominic Campbell was delegated to mark Micky Harte, the Omagh captain, who was one of the most feared forwards around. I think he did okay on him.”

St Michael’s won by 1-10 to 0-10 and it led to an out-pouring of emotion from people in Fermanagh. County chairman John McElholm described it as “the most important day ever for football in the county” but for the St Michael’s management team of Mick Brewster and Gabriel Brock it was simply relief that they had finally got over the line.

“The key score was the goal and Frank Cassidy scored it,” said McKenna. “I remember it well because I was marking Frank. But he got the ball, got past me and scored just before half-time.

“From what I remember our better known players couldn’t get into the game enough that day and it was the lesser known players that actually performed better.”

McGinnity only now appreciates the victory as being the first for the school.

“As a young fellow I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of a very first title for St Michael’s.”

Omagh lost, among others, captain Mickey Harte and midfielder Dessie McKenna to university life at the end of the summer but a number of the '73 team quickly forgot their disappointment by taking the 1974 title.

The same two schools were back in O’Neill Park for the second successive year after yet another tough league encounter earlier in the year which Enniskillen this time won by 2-7 to 2-5.

“The team that won the league game each year didn’t go on to win the MacRory,” adds McKenna.

“We had a tight run-in with the Academy (St Patrick’s Dungannon) in the semi-final. They had a lot of the Tyrone team that won the 1973 All-Ireland minor and I remember Colm McAleer scoring two 50s in the second half to get us over the line, 1-8 to 0-8.

“Because of the game and the two games the year before, the ’74 final was really a big thing and it created huge interest in the area.”

But the game in O’Neill Park ended in a “dour draw” at 0-6 each, with Frank Cassidy hitting the equaliser near the close.

“I would say that the tension of the build-up and the occasion had an impact on the game. It was a bad day weather-wise and that probably didn’t help either team. I know that it didn’t help Omagh anyway. The weather was much better for the replay however and it was a far better game.”

By contrast McGinnity was disappointed after the draw.

“Even though we were the ones to get the equaliser, I was bitterly disappointed. I was the Enniskillen captain and I missed a couple of frees during the course of the game. They probably cost us and those wides haunted me for years after it.”

The replay, played in front of over 6,000 spectators, took place in Emmett Park, Lisnaskea and it probably helped Omagh that they had played a tough quarter-final against St Patrick’s Cavan there.

McGinnity recalls the crowd: "Fermanagh U21s had been doing well around that time, we had the MacRory from the year before and there was huge interest and the Fermanagh people came in their droves to support us. But it wasn’t enough.”

Omagh CBS looked the better team for the greater part of the game, but St Michael’s, with five of the previous year’s winning team, clung on to their coat-tails before the “Brothers” won on a 1-11 to 0-12 score-line. The two midfielders were marking each other.

“I think that we had a few opportunities to win. But Omagh seemed more confident than the first day and Eugene had a stormer," McGinnity recalls.

"While he was okay in the other games, I think this was the game when we all saw that he was turning into the player we later saw at inter-county level.”

The Augher man remembers it being a tight enough game.

“We had a re-union there recently of the team, 45 years on, and when that happens people start remembering small things. Someone said that Jim Cleary, the soccer player, had a chance of a goal for St Michael’s that might have denied us.

“I remember it as a day things went well for us throughout and Peter Fox got the goal. Peter died recently, so too Barney Lagan and Thomas McGarry from the 1973 team is also dead. And I think of those boys when I look back.”

“It was great coming back into the school with the cup and you felt a foot taller after it. Then you had a Hogan semi-final to prepare for. I remember Br O’Shea giving us money after training one evening to get something to eat before we got the bus home...

“Anyway, we lost narrowly in the Hogan semi to Gormanstown. Their midfield was Paul McGettigan who had already played senior for Donegal and Ógie Moran. It was a bit of a downer losing by a point or two. I had a late chance for a goal, but the shot came back off the bar.”

Because Eugene McKenna won his MacRory in his final year after losing the previous year, the warm feeling remained, in contrast to Gerry McGinnity who felt strangely unfulfilled.

“I probably took it worse, being captain, and the team losing what we had won the year before.”

The two midfielders went on to play on the same teams through Queen's and both had extended inter-county careers. But the five games over the course of those two campaigns provided a strong grounding for their emerging footballing reputations.

Forty-five years on both still keep a keen eye on the MacRory Cup. Forty-five years on and the school ties remain the same.

1973 MacRory Cup final played Sunday 11th March 1973: St Michael’s, Enniskillen 1-10 Omagh CBS 0-10

Winning Captain: Hugh O’Neill (St Patrick’s, Donagh)

Winning coach: Mick Brewster & Gabriel Brock

Venue: O’Neill Park, Dungannon

St Michael’s Enniskillen: Frank Maguire, Brendan Murphy, Pearse O’Neill, Dominic Campbell, Gerry McGinnity, Marius McHugh, Hugh O’Neill capt (0-2), Jimmy Naan (0-3), Dermot McManus (0-1), Philip Murphy (0-1), Frank McPhillips (0-2), Frank Cassidy (1-0), Frank Frizelle (0-1).

Omagh CBS: Barry Campbell, Seán Healey, Eugene McKenna, John Duddy, Colm McAleer, Frank Sweeney, Oliver O’Neill, Dessie McKenna, Tony Marlowe (0-3), Barry Turnbull (0-1), Tommy Campbell (0-1), Peter Fox (0-2), Micky Harte capt (0-3).

Sub: T McGarvey for J. Duddy

Referee : Jim McGuigan (Derry)

1974 MacRory Cup final replay played Sunday March 24 1974: Omagh CBS 1-11 St Michael’s Enniskillen 0-12

Winning Captain: Colm McAleer (Beragh Red Knights)

Winning coaches: Terry McGurk & Brother T Canton

Venue: Emmett Park, Lisnaskea

Omagh CBS: Barry Campbell, Aidan McGurk, Brendan McDonald, Liam O'Neill, Colm McAleer capt (0-1), John Joe Campbell, Eugene McKenna (0-2), Gerry McCallan, Stephen Doherty, Tony Marlowe (0-6), Peter Fox (1-2), Paul Donnelly, Pat Duddy

St Michael’s Enniskillen: Frank Maguire, Peter Clarke, Gerry McElroy, Brian Armitage, Dominic Campbell, Éamonn McMorrow, Gerry McGinnity, Éamonn Healy, Jim Cleary (0-1), Frank Cassidy (0-4), Ray Cassidy, Kieran Corrigan (0-4), Eugene Flaherty (0-1)

Sub: Brian O'Neill (0-1) for R. Cassidy

Referee: Jim McGuigan (Derry)

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