GAA Football

St Mary's, Belfast manager Paddy Tally reaches the Holy Grail with his heroes

St Mary's manager Paddy Tally takes the congratulations of UCD counterpart John Divilly
Picture by Sportsfile
From Darragh Small at the Connacht Centre of Excellence

A FORMER Sigerson Cup player for St Mary’s, on Saturday Paddy Tally became the first manager to lead them to glory in 28 years of the competition.

It was the ultimate underdog story for the teacher training college on the Falls Road in Belfast, and Tally was the perfect unassuming character to oversee the success.

“We have been up and down the country a lot of times and we have never had anything like this. It’s very satisfying from a personal point of view, ” said Tally, a senior lecturer in the PE department, who started coaching the team in 1999.

In many quarters, St Mary’s didn’t stand a chance against UCC in the semi-final at the Connacht Centre of Excellence in Bekan on Friday. When Ian Maguire and Cathal Bambury both rattled the net in the fifth minute, a 2-0 to 0-0 deficit already looked insurmountable.

But St Mary’s showed incredible courage to dig out a one-point half-time lead, and then pushed on in the second half to secure a narrow 2-7 to 2-6 victory.

However, reaching the final wasn’t bonus territory for this side, and their semi-final victory created an innate ability to fight their way through adversity.

A big crowd turned up in Bekan on Saturday to witness another special comeback, and an awesome victory against the Sigerson Cup kingpins from UCD, and Tally knew he had witnessed brilliance.

“It’s absolutely amazing. It’s been a process over a number of years. We have been very, very close in a lot of quarter-final matches. I felt if we could get to the weekend we would be hard to talk to. Today was just brilliant,” said Tally.

“You have to believe it, you would pack it in otherwise. Last year, we were bitterly disappointed we were beaten in the quarter-final by Jordanstown.

“You had to reassess after that and think is it really worth going back to all of that again. But when it comes to October these young fellas go back to college and the first thing they think is when is the football starting?

“You get back into the swing of it again. It’s a wonderful thing this competition. It’s unique that you would play two big championship matches in two days running.

“Really it comes down to whoever has the bigger heart for it, the bigger desire and the greater resilience. All of those things compact into it.”

With squad members from Down, Antrim, Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh, and Derry, Tally is well aware that his players will be competing ferociously against each other over the coming months.

But the man who used to be involved with Mickey Harte’s backroom team in the Tyrone set-up, knows he is dealing with a special group.

“Come the summer if they meet each other in the championship they will cut lumps out of each other and they will shake hands after and they will back in Belfast and back teaching.

“And the great thing about it is these fellas are going to go out into the schools and they are going to bring this spirit and this type of attitude to the next generation of young people. They have been influenced by their teachers before they came to me. A lot of the guys that they had in the St Mary’s teams in the past.

“So I knew when I came to the door. When they come my way they had already had a bit of spirit drilled into them. It’s just a matter for me to bring it on another level.”

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GAA Football