Castleblayney and Magherafelt the teams to beat as St Paul's minor tournament gets underway

Many of the county champions from Ulster's Minor Championships in 2023 will be put through their paces in Belfast.
Many of the county champions from Ulster's Minor Championships in 2023 will be put through their paces in Belfast. Many of the county champions from Ulster's Minor Championships in 2023 will be put through their paces in Belfast.

Speaking to The Irish News’ Andy Watters a few weeks back, Glen’s Danny Tallon tried to piece it all together. With skin in the game, it’s an impossible task. 

Danny Tallon knows that Glen are three-in-a-row county champions, he knows his side are the beaten All-Ireland finalists, and he knows how close they were. How close they are.

But Danny Tallon also knows that Watty Grahams meant next to nothing to those outside the Oak Leaf County until their very first Derry title in 2021. 

Golden generations have the lifespan of a goldfish. The good times are solely a thing of reflection, and when the silverware starts to rust, Glen will look back at these times we call the present as the best they ever had.

The St Paul’s Ulster Minor Tournament bears their name on the trophy all of four times, the most recent of which was in 2014. Striking and unsurprising in equal measure. This weekend, it kicks off again.

When Castleblayney Faughs head up to the Falls’ Road, they will carry dreams of a return to the glory days, memories of Eamon McEneaney, Nudie Hughes, Declan Loughman and more. 

These days, Monaghan’s most successful club are rooted in the Intermediate ranks for another year. Another Ulster JHC title for the town’s hurlers has done little to appease the big ball enthusiasts, God forbid, Blayney in danger of becoming known as a hurling town.

But there’s hope yet. Scotstown and the Faughs had been marked out as the teams to beat at minor level between the drumlins. A 5-15 to 5-15 draw in the final round of the league confirmed the suspicions. 

Championship glory underlined them and threw in an exclamation mark.

And there’s names being made already, none more so than Max McGinnity, who has starred for club, county, and more recently Our Lady’s secondary school, who have been turning heads in the MacRory Cup.

Awaiting Castleblayney in the quarter-final are Armagh champions Clan na Gael, skippered by Sean Reid. He will likely face the task of marshalling the Monaghan sharpshooter in his own full-back line. A challenge he is surely relishing.

Clan na Gael are likely hampered by the club system in Armagh, wherein there was only an U-18 tournament played in 2023. This U-17 batch will be forced to gel quickly, but the underdogs tag will not be something Reid or his teammates will fear.

The winners of the opening quarter-final will meet either Magherafelt of Derry or Donegal’s Four Masters in the semi-final next Sunday. 

The Oak Leafers appear stronger on paper, bolstered by All-Ireland minor champions Conall Higgins and Cahair Spiers, to name but two.

St Paul’s clubman Conor McCartan is keen to stress that Four Masters will pose an almighty challenge however. Centre-forward Kevin Connolly is underage again, having been “one of the standout performers” in the tournament last year.

Turlough Carr is another name to keep an eye out for, as Four Masters aim to prevent Magherafelt becoming the 19th Derry side to win the tournament.

St Paul’s themselves must play the waiting game, receiving a bye in what would have mirrored the first ever match played in the event, featuring a clash of the hosts and the Tyrone county champions.

An ongoing saga revolving around Dromore’s expulsion from the championship in September has prevented the finale of the minor club season in Tyrone, and as a result they did not put a team forward to participate in Belfast before the December 8 deadline.

St Paul’s will now face Mayobridge of Down next weekend, with the semi-finals pencilled in for next Sunday and St Stephen’s Day. The final will take place on New Year’s Day, as the young guns aim to emulate the heroics of 2022 champions Dungiven.