McElholm hails character of Magherafelt team ahead of MacRory Cup decider

From left, Caolán Reilly from Our Lady's, Castleblayney and Oisín Monahan of Patrician High, Carrickmacross, who face each other in the Danske Bank McLarnon Cup final, and MacRory Cup finalists Eoin McEvoy of St Mary's, Magherafelt and Callan Kelly of Holy Trinity, Cookstown Picture: PressEye

ST MARY’S Magherafelt will be ‘there or thereabouts’ in Sunday’s MacRory Cup final, but won’t be underestimating the challenge of first time finalists Holy Trinity, Cookstown.

That’s the take of John McElholm, a member of the Magherafelt management team, as the Derry school bid to back up their maiden success of 2017.

“There is some buzz around the school and it’s great times,” McElholm commented.

“We are just trying to keep the boys focussed and keep them grounded.”

This group’s only success at school came in the shield section of the Year 11 Brock Cup after failing to progress in the main competition.

Two years ago they lost a Rannafast decider by a point in injury time against local rivals St Patrick’s, Maghera and now this group of players aim to win a first ever Ulster Schools’ title.

“It was a game that we left behind us,” McElholm recalls of that Rannafast defeat.

“They are a great group of lads and once they got a taste of that, the standards on the training field have gone up. That’s something that we drill into them - standards, standards, standards.”

McElholm speaks of the ‘fantastic work’ going on in the clubs, helping their players reach the ‘elite’ level in underage football.

“These boys are all great footballers, they are county minors and boys are doing well with their club senior teams and county U20s,” he said.

“They have a huge level of performance and they are even better fellas. They are expected to bring a good standard to every single training session, with intensity and a really good workrate.”

McElholm describes their 2-18 to 0-9 quarter-final victory ‘really good’ and was happy to see the performance come together as the competition began to take shape.

He was also impressed with their semi-final win and hailed the spirit of them when backed into a corner.

“We knew we were up against it and Omagh asked us different questions, but the most pleasing thing about it was how we regrouped after that bad start,” he said.

Trailing by four points, the Convent didn’t panic and edged their way back into the game. McElholm praises how the players were able to evaluate the complexion of a game that could’ve slipped away from them.

“They are able to think on their feet, they are not robots; the game is too spontaneous for that.

"They communicate and change things as they go along. We give them the freedom and leeway to do that.

“They are able to develop sweepers, to pass men on and they are all comfortable in their own role.”

Looking ahead to Sunday and McElholm isn’t surprised it’s Holy Trinity who advanced on the other side of the draw.

“When you see the names on paper, they have lots of good footballers,” he said, while referring to their sheer size across the middle.

“They are intense, that are passionate and they’ll hit hard. They are boys that have played in big games and this will not faze them,” he said.

“But we’d like to think we have a strong team. Our boys have worked hard and they’ll not be found wanting when it comes to the business end.”

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