Thin margins will decided Mageean Cup final between Ballymena and Garron Tower

There was nothing between St Louis, Ballymena and St Killian's, Garron Tower when the two sides drew in the group stages of this year's Mageean Cup and an equally tight contest awaits in Friday's final Picture: PressEye
Séamas McAleenan

Danske Bank Mageean Cup final: St Louis', Ballymena v St Killian’s, Garron Tower (tonight, the Dub, 7.30pm)

ON Thursday October 27, St Louis, Ballymena and St Killian’s, Garron Tower met at the halfway venue of Glenravel for a Danske Bank Mageean Cup group game that would decide the top two places.

St Louis had the better start and pulled away in the third quarter, but St Killian’s hit eight of the last nine points to snatch a draw (1-15 to 0-18).

Joe McLaughlin fired over 11 points that day including the equaliser while Ballymena free-taker Aodhán McGarry registered nine points and Jack McCloskey hit a goal and two points.

The same personalities were prominent in last week’s semi-finals when McGarry top-scored with 0-13, including 11 frees, when St Louis ended St Patrick’s Maghera’s run on a 1-22 to 2-9 scoreline in Ahoghill.

24 hours later the scoring was a lot lower in Ballymena when St Killian’s came through on a 1-10 to 1-7 scoreline against Cross & Passion, Ballycastle with McLaughlin on target nine times over the hour.

In a way both teams were facing down their bogey team as Maghera had ended Ballymena’s bid for a third title on four occasions since that Dunloy-led second success in 2015, while Cross & Passion have denied St Killian’s, also at the semi-final stage, in recent years.

As a result of that draw just before Halloween, both teams are going into the final unbeaten; St Louis’ superior score-difference saw them top the group and go straight into the semi-final, while St Killian’s destroyed Knock on their way into the semi-final meeting with Cross & Passion. There is no doubt that the two best teams are in the final.

Who will win it?

That is a difficult question to answer, given that the semi-final games and opposition contrasted.

Maghera were out of sorts during the first half and St Louis had their game won by half-time. When the Maghera burst came in the third quarter they handled it well and deserved their 10-points victory.

Cross & Passion looked as limited up front as Maghera, but they really made Garron Tower fight for every score. St Killian’s always looked the likely winner and led most of the game, but didn’t clinch it until Niall Hynds bore down on goals and Orrin O’Connor swept the loose ball to the net around 10 minutes from time. It was then a matter of closing out the game as CPC never looked like breaking them.

Last year a lot of the Ballymena side played in a closely-fought semi-final with eventual winners the Red High. The Downpatrick team got the breaks close to the end while St Louis hit a scoreless patch around the start of the last quarter.

If they learn from that lapse last year they can go on to take this year’s title.

St Killian’s also had a lesson to learn from last year. They led Maghera all the way through the second half, but failed to hit the target over the last 10 minutes and narrowly missed out on the final.

That last quarter against Cross & Passion last week should stand to them.

There are plenty of useful stick-men on both sides; Loughgiel forwards Jack McCloskey and Ronan McCollum come into the final with big reputations while the Tower team is back-boned by seven from Glenariffe and four from Cushendall, all with plenty of hurling skills. Ballymena also feature the Patterson brothers and several from Dunloy.

What struck me about the St Louis team as they made their way through the competition was their physical presence and they look to have a good mix of skill and brawn.

St Killian’s have only three or four players in their final year of study; they are more or less the team that convincingly won the Foresters’ Cup last year. They may need an extra year to mature into the type of team that is needed to do the business tonight.

St Louis are slight favourites to make it three wins from five finals.