Success sits alongside heartbreak in 2017 Schools GAA campaigns
Ulster Schools’ GAA Council currently has 131 participating schools, and runs 72 competitions, which means that more than 1,800 games were played during the past year.
Inevitably there will be many teams and coaches disappointed with how their campaign went, while many others will celebrate success that may not always have ended with a trophy.
All success is relative to the journey travelled and I was reminded of this when covering the recent Danske Bank Rannafast Shield final in which Loreto, Coleraine beat St Paul’s, Bessbrook.
Both teams can look back on serious progress achieved over several years, Loreto starting out from C grade and St Paul’s, very much at the bottom end of B football.
Yet it is doubtful if any team set out to win the Rannafast Shield.
And this time last year it is fair to say that St Mary’s, Magherafelt were not one of the front-runners for the 95th Danske Bank MacRory title.
Certainly their low-key performance in a quarter-final play-off against St Michael’s, Enniskillen on a foggy Sunday at the start of February would not have enhanced their standing.
But that win helped them gain momentum and they saw off Omagh CBS and St Paul’s, Bessbrook to set up a St Patrick’s Day showdown with record 19-time champions St Colman’s, Newry.
The confidence and poise of their performance in scoring 19 points in the final was as unexpected as they were enjoyed by many beyond the ‘Convent’s’ hinterland of loughshore clubs.
The disappointment was that they lost the Hogan semi-final against St Peter’s, Wexford just five days later (hardly sufficient time to come down from the euphoria experienced in the Athletic Grounds).
It was a memorable breakthrough and succeeding teams in the Convent will benefit from 2017, even though neighbours St Patrick’s Maghera have reasserted themselves with comfortable wins over them in several competitions in the interim, including the MacCormack Cup semi-final at the end of November.
On Thursday St Ronan’s surprised a few by defeating St Patrick’s, Maghera in the MacCormack final, but the pair should meet again some time during the spring where the destination of the 2018 MacRory Cup will be decided.
For Maghera there is a level of expectation at all levels and this was accentuated when they collected the Oisin McGrath, Dalton and Corn na nÓg titles to add to the Rannafast Cup title they won in November 2016.
The Brock Cup was probably decided in injury time in their semi-final with Patrician, Carrickmacross when Lee McDonnell finished a length of the field move with a goal for a 2-12 to 1-12 win over the south Derry power house. Patrician went on to win a first ever title at this level with a less dramatic 1-7 to 0-4 final win over St Colman’s, Newry.
However, when the same Patrician team didn’t make the knock-out stages of the Rannafast Cup in November and Maghera were steam-rolling everyone, the mantle of favourite easily passed to them.
That mantle didn’t sit well as St Michael’s, Enniskillen took them out on a 2-3 to 0-8 scoreline in the semi-final and they in turn lost to St Patrick’s Cavan in the decider.
Cavan then doubled up less than a fortnight later when they avenged defeat in last spring’s Dalton decider by storming to a shock 20 points’ victory over Maghera in the Corn na nÓg final in December.
St Ciaran’s, Ballygawley were convincing winners of the Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup on St Patrick’s Day and moved up to MacRory level, as did St Malachy’s, Castlewellan after winning last season’s Rafferty Cup.
This season’s Rafferty was won by Holy Trinity, Cookstown with a 2-12 to 1-7 win over St Patrick’s, Keady after both needed extra-time in their semi-finals.
St Ronan’s won Corn Cholmchille in April and moved up to Corn na nÓg which opened the way for St Pius X, Magherafelt to come through and defeat St Paul’s Bessbrook in the Loch an Iúir final a week ago.
Elsewhere, in football there were initial successes for Sacred Heart, Omagh (Mallon and Nagle Cups), St Patrick’s, Banbridge (Flynn and Mulholland Cups), both Lumen Christi and St Joseph’s, Derry, St Joseph’s, Coalisland, St Mary’s, Limavady, Coláiste Cholmchille and more recently for St Joseph’s Donaghmore (McDevitt Cup) and Loreto Milford (Arthurs Cup).
In hurling St Patrick’s Maghera (right) delivered on their pre-competition favourites’ tag by taking their 14th Mageean Cup title defeating An Dún in the final, seven years on from their last showpiece win.
They also collected the Thompson and Leonard Cups in 2017, while St Mary’s Belfast (Gallagher Cup), Cross and Passion Ballycastle (Foresters’ Cup) and St Killian’s Garron Tower (MacNamee Cup) were all comfortable winners in the top grade.
St Patrick’s Keady won the Kirk Cup and then retained the Casement Cup, while Knock took the McGreevy and Leopold Shield. There was also a breakthrough for Gaelcholáiste Dhoire winning the recent Reihill Cup with five girls starting the final against Omagh CBS.
Not surprisingly I suppose schools that are making their mark in hurling have also done so in camogie in 2017, including An Gaelcholáiste.
Cross and Passion, Ballycastle have dominated underage camogie at Ulster level for three seasons now and that translated into wrestling Corn Uan Uladh off Maghera in a replayed senior final in February, but the four-day turn-around combined with a trip to Thurles left them a little short at All-Ireland level.
The schools’ juniors lost narrowly in their All-Ireland final but easily retained their Ulster title by beating St Catherine’s Armagh in a high-scoring final. CPC seniors are odds-on favourites to retain their title when they meet St Louis Ballymena in the final in January, the first final in 30 years that won’t feature St Patrick’s, Maghera nor St Mary’s, Magherafelt.
St Catherine’s, Armagh took their first ever Fr Davies Cup final a week before Christmas and Our Lady’s and St Patrick’s, Knock their first Fontenoys’ Cup at Halloween, both schools defeating St Killian’s, Garron Tower in the final.
And last week St Clare’s, Ballyjamesduff won a first ever Senior Medallion Shield in succession to Loreto, Cavan, while Roisin Gallagher guided St Mary’s, Clady to the Junior Shield in November.