GAA Football

Kevin Small could make a big impact for St Mary's, Magherafelt in MacRory semi against St Paul's, Bessbrook

Omagh CBS Ryan McCusker and Kevin Small of St Mary's Magherafelt during the MacRory Cup quarter-final match played at Ballinderry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.
Séamas McAleenan


Danske Bank MacRory Cup semi-final: Queen’s Arena, Tonight 7.30pm: St Paul's, Bessbrook v St Mary's, Magherafelt

Over the last fortnight I have heard plenty of comment on how both these teams have made the Danske Bank MacRory Cup semi-finals because of the inadequacies of their opponents.

But there is more to St Paul's Bessbrook and St Mary's Magherafelt than taking advantage of a team not playing well.

For a start both teams are built on solid defences, defences that are difficult to break down, defences that force forwards into poor decision-making because they are getting so few clear-cut openings.

In Newry, Abbey opted for a two player full-forward line and St Paul’s retained corner back James Bennett to sit in front of the man-to-man markers.

Meanwhile Conall Devlin has been dropping back for St Mary’s Magherafelt as a sweeper congesting the area in front of goal.

Both strategies have worked for the team and neither set of forwards had to run up a huge score-line to get over the line – and both management teams are concerned only with making it over the line.

Magherafelt won handily enough against Enniskillen – but only three of their 12 points came from open play.

Against Omagh, only four scores came that route but delivered 2-2 in a 3-4 to 1-9 win.

Kevin Small didn’t play pre-Christmas at all following a serious injury sustained in a schools’ hurling match and he looked a little rusty against Enniskillen.

A fortnight later his movement, and indeed finishing, indicated that he is back close to his pre-injury form and a real threat for any full-back line.

St Mary’s though could do with another source in scoring.

Adam Connolly, Simon McErlean and Liam Quinn all get through a lot of work – but invariably in providing a link between defence and attack and not in picking off points or breaking through on goal.

St Paul’s have a good target man in Shea Loye, while Liam Kerr’s continuous running provides another scoring option and centre-forward Richard Keenan will weigh in with the odd good point.

Against Abbey defenders Conor Magennis and Conor Clarke impressed with their willingness to move ball at speed out of defence – and that was what led to the all important goal.

I was also impressed by the contribution of Zygimantas Burnickas at midfield in his fielding and his link work.

Overall I believe that St Paul’s carry more threat than St Mary’s. They were in last year’s final and more than half of the team carry that experience along with them.

St Mary’s though were not expected to beat Omagh CBS.

The tag of under-dog will certainly suit them again and, if as expected it turns out to be a low-scoring encounter, Small could again make a big difference.

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GAA Football