GAA Football

'There's not a day goes past you don't think about him': Red High to hold special tournament in memory of past pupil Niall Laverty

Niall Laverty, bottom left, celebrates with his St Patrick's Grammar School team-mates after their MacLarnon Cup final win over Cathair Dhoire back in March. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

STUDENTS from St Patrick's Grammar School in Downpatrick have organised a special tournament in memory of past pupil Niall Laverty, who passed away last month.

The 19-year-old from Saul - who was part of the Red High team that lifted the MacLarnon Cup back in March - died suddenly on September 19, leaving the entire community in shock.

Now the school's year 14 sports science class have arranged a memorial tournament for Saturday, November 9 (10.45am-4.30pm), with eight U21 seven-a-side teams from across east Down signed up to compete.

All proceeds will go towards charities chosen by the Laverty family, while orders are currently being taken for a special memorial jersey.

It will be an emotional day for family, friends and all those who knew the likeable teenager as they celebrate the life of a young man whose first love was always football.

“Niall was just a smashing all round lad,” said Darren Swail, assistant principal and head of PE at St Patrick's.

“We had many stand-out performers in a great MacLarnon campaign this year but when the management team sat down to select a player of the year before our sports awards in May, there was one unanimous choice.

“Niall was central to all our success and did whatever was asked of him without question all year. He was a passionate sportsman in his time at the Red High and starred on every Gaelic, hurling and soccer team he could play on. A real character who will be sorely missed.

“Everybody is still in shock, but we're trying to create a legacy for Niall at the school and when the sports science class came up with the idea of a tournament, this seemed like the perfect way to do it.”

Tim Prenter was the goalscoring hero on the Red High team that defeated Cathair Dhoire at Armagh's Athletic Grounds, hitting the net twice in a five-point win.

But he says Niall Laverty's selflessness had shone through on the big day as he performed a superb man-marking job on Cathair Dhoire dangerman Fergal Mortimer.

“We were all so determined to get over the line that day, and thankfully we did for the first time in 18 years,” said Prenter, who has helped with the design of the memorial jersey.

“Even though we didn't go to the same primary school, I would've known Niall through playing against Saul with Downpatrick at underage level. He was always one of the best players around here, and in our MacLarnon teams he would've been one of the main leaders.

“He normally played wing half-forward or wing-back but in the final he ended up playing corner back; it wasn't something he was used to but he still managed to do brilliantly as usual.”

The last line of defence throughout that run was Castlewellan's Eoin Maginn.

And it is a memory from the semi-final win over St Louis' Grammar, Ballymena that comes to mind when he thinks back to that MacLarnon campaign.

“He was straight over to me at the final whistle, the first person to come up to me and hug me,” recalled Maginn.

“From the first day of first year I sat beside Niall and got to know him. He was one of a kind - always talking, he always had something to say, always had his own opinion.

“He was mad into the Gaelic, a big Saul man, a big Red High man, loved having the craic, had a super rapport with the teachers and all us boys. He was like a family member to me really.

“The 18th of March, winning the MacLarnon, was probably the best day of our lives. It was the perfect end to seven years at the school; we couldn't have asked for any better way to finish.

“There's not a day goes past you don't think about him; it's going to be raw for a while. But Gaelic was such a central part of Niall's life, something he loved and enjoyed, and this tournament is a fitting way to honour his memory.”

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