St Paul’s Bessbrook and St Mary’s CBS target MacRory Cup semi-final spot

Danske Bank MacRory Cup quarter-final play-off: Today (Saturday Jan 28) in Killeavy at 12.30pm: St Paul’s Bessbrook v St Mary’s CBS

A couple of years ago, St Paul’s found themselves in the position that St Mary’s CBGS now find themselves; moving up from the Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup to sit at the MacRory table.

The difference is that St Paul’s came up as winners of the MacLarnon and rushed through the league to collect the MacCormack Cup. Both successes meant that there was no lack of belief in the squad.

This season, we have a St Mary’s squad competing in the MacRory for the first time for several seasons but who have participated in A grade football through the school. Trouble is that they don’t have any silverware to their name from that journey.

Not that this St Paul’s squad has won anything more, except that there is now an established St Paul’s MacRory Cup tradition with two final appearances in the past four seasons.

Many of this year’s team played in last March’s showpiece and that experience will really stand to them as they tackle the knock-out stages this season.

Shea Loye, Liam Kerr, Declan Loye, Ronan and Niall McGuinness and Conor Clarke have been their leaders this season on a rocky enough journey through the league that delivered just one win and a draw, incidentally against the two teams that have since been eliminated.

St Mary’s were runaway winners of the Danske Bank Mageean Cup and the pace and teamwork evident in their hurling success surfaced in their league games as well – although their only reward was a 2-12 to 1-10 win over St Michael’s Enniskillen.

There is a fair sprinkling of talent in the team – Dominic McEnhill, Darren Grego and Paddy Doyle are all capable of getting through for a few scores per game, while hurling All-star and captain CJ McKenna is accurate from placed balls.

The carrot in the quarter-final is a Páirc Esler meeting with Abbey CBS – and that is something that would particularly appeal to St Paul’s.

Although they cannot take their eye of the ball to look too fa ahead, they have enough experience from last season to make set this up next month.

Danske Bank MacRory Cup quarter-final play-off: Today (Saturday Jan 28) in Páirc Esler, Newry at 5pm: St Colman’s Newry v St Patrick’s Cavan

When St Colman’s Newry met St Patrick’s Cavan on 21st November in the last league game of their group, St Colman’s came through strongly to win by 0-18 to 1-10 with Crossmaglen’s Rian O’Neill the star man with eight points to his name.

The Rangers’ player has been one to watch as he came through the age-groups with club, school and indeed with Armagh and he will be a player that Cavan will have ear-marked for some extra attention if they hope to reach the quarter-final proper.

Cavan finished just above Patrician at the foot of the group, and got an easier play-off game at the end of November; well that is how it turned out with the 2015 MacRory champions winning by 6-13 to 0-9 against a St Macartan’s Monaghan side that won the Rannafast Cup the same season.

Oisin Pearson put his name in the spotlight during that game with 3-3, but essentially once Cavan had broken St Macartan’s with a goal early in the second half, the flood-gates opened.

That was not the story during Cavan’s league games, which were all a struggle with Jack McKenna, Shane McFeety and Shane Finnegan the only regular scorers.

The league game with St Colman’s was a fairly open affair and Cavan suffered as a consequence with the Newry side playing fast open football and stretching their back-line.

The Breffni side will probably have to close out the play in this quarter-final play-off if they hope to be the team meeting St Patrick’s Armagh next month.

St Colman’s probably have not shown their full hand yet in that a number of their team was juggling club football with Burren minors with Violet Hill’s league games.

Nothing yet has told us that they are capable of eclipsing the school’s 20th MacRory crown, but they do look to be a shade better than Cavan.

St Patrick’s played well against St Macartan’s when their backs were against the wall. But there was a lack of intensity for most of that game. That won’t be the case with St Colman’s.

They will have to play well above what they have done to date. St Colman’s should have enough to make it through.

Danske Bank MacRory Cup Quarter-final play-off: Tomorrow (Sunday Jan 29) in Magherafelt at 2pm: St Mary’s Magherafelt v St Michael’s Enniskillen

Both these teams have been unpredictable in the league stages of the Danske Bank MacRory Cup during October and November; a good performance was invariably followed by an indifferent one and each campaign ended with a heavy defeat.

St Mary’s Magherafelt’s main problem has been finishing a team off after having done the spade work to get into the lead during a game. That was the case in their opening game with Carrickmacross and in the St Colman’s game.

On both days they established themselves during the early part of the game, but still ended up with a draw, coming away with the feeling that a point had been lost instead of gained.

In their final game against Omagh CBS, they were well off the mark, slumping to a 3-16 to 2-3 defeat – incidentally Omagh are the prize awaiting the winners in the quarter-final next month.

Kevin Small, an Antrim minor player for the past couple of seasons, was expected to be a key player for the south Derry school, but a severe hand-injury sustained in a hurling game in October meant that he has played no part at all in their campaign to date and has only recently been doing light training.

In his absence Daniel Bradley, Declan Cassidy and Liam Quinn have led St Mary’s in terms of scoring while Conor McCluskey, who made the All-star team announced just before Christmas, has impressed in defence.

Enniskillen started off very well with a 4-14 to 1-11 win over St Patrick’s Armagh during which Lorcan McStravick fired in 3-3. However the pace of St Mary’s CBGS opened them up during the second game and they conceded six goals to Maghera in their final game, while Armagh went on to top the group and reach the quarter-finals by route one.

So where does the Fermanagh school rank now in the MacRory standings? Like their opponents it is difficult to put them into a particular compartment.

St Michael’s have some exciting talent in Tiarnan Bogue, a Schools’ All-star last year, Lorcan McStravick and Dara McGurn, and they looked great against Armagh in the opening game.

Their other results showed a lack of pace and an openness in defence and the speed of Bradley, Cassidy and Quinn can exploit this.

Either team, on their day, looks capable of taking out a big gun, while on another day they can be made to look quite ordinary.

Whoever wins this game, should be under-dogs in the next round and that would suit them fine.

Today though, the team best focussed on the job in hand should prevail.

Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup quarter-final: Today (Saturday Jan 28) 12pm in Drumragh, Omagh: St Eunan’s Letterkenny v Our Lady’s Castleblayney

The two big hitters in this season’s Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup face off in this afternoon’s first match of the quarter-finals.

2015 champions Our Lady’s Castleblayney will face 2014 champions St Eunan’s Letterkenny with three from Our Lady’s and Niall O’Donnell from St Eunan’s in possession of winners’ medals for their exploits on the field.

O’Donnell of course has matured since that low-scoring derby win three seasons ago over Scoileanna Inis Eoghain in which he contributed a point.

The St Eunan’s club man has won an Ulster minor medal and featured in the recent Dr McKenna Cup games.

He has helped his school team to an unbeaten run in the MacLarnon group stages, where they encountered Our Lady’s and came through on a 3-14 to 2-14 score-line.

However James Wilson was not playing that day and he is another young player making rapid progress in his county. Indeed Malachy O’Rourke also included the pint-sized Toome forward in his McKenna Cup squad.

James, along with half-back Frank Connolly and forward Aaron Courtney, won the Cup two years ago and they impressed in qualification games against St Malachy’s Belfast, St Pius X and St Patrick’s Downpatrick – as well as the St Eunan’s defeat.

Both teams have been playing open football and running up high scores along the way. With a forward of the calibre of Wilson back for Castleblayney they will have high hopes of overturning the result in November.

O’Donnell will be a huge obstacle to achieving that and Connolly might well be the player delegated to stick with the Donegal team’s top-scorer, although placing either Tommy Geehan or Calum Blanche on him would release Connolly for a freer role at the back of midfield, from where he can attack with pace.

That marking task might well be a little easier than closing out Wilson, whose low-centre of gravity makes him difficult to stop once he gains possession.

It’s the tie of the round; it should be closely-fought, entertaining and probably high-scoring and the winner will be highly-fancied to go all the way. A hesitant vote for Castleblayney to stay on course for a second crown in three seasons.