Colman's in way of St Ronan's Lurgan's first MacRory final

St Ronan's, Lurgan skipper Sean McAlinden, receiving the McCormick Cup from Ulster Schools chairman Jimmy Smyth in November.
St Ronan's, Lurgan skipper Sean McAlinden, receiving the McCormick Cup from Ulster Schools chairman Jimmy Smyth in November.

Danske Bank MacRory Cup semi-final: St Ronan's, Lurgan v St Colman's, Newry (tonight, Athletic Grounds, Armagh, 7.30pm)

St Ronan’s, Lurgan are back in the Athletic Grounds in Armagh tonight, scene of their impressive Danske Bank MacRory Cup quarter-final win over Patrician High, Carrickmacross eight days ago.

Their opponents, St Colman’s, Newry, are the record 19 times MacRory Cup champions with a rich tradition stretching back to 1949 and through the decades they would have featured a lot of Lurgan club players in winning teams, including current Ulster Schools’ chairman and former All-star forward Jimmy Smyth.

St Ronan’s tonight certainly have a lot of tradition to overturn – but should they do it, we will have the first MacRory Cup decider since the 1973 meeting of St Michael’s, Enniskillen and Omagh CBS where both finalists are in search of their first title.

And, based on their pre-Christmas league form and last week’s quarter-final, they have every chance of making it back again to the Athletic Grounds for St Patrick’s Day

St Ronan’s started the Carrickmacross game very well, scoring the opening nine points and not conceding a score until the 28th minute, albeit that they did have wind assistance during that period of dominance.

Their performance was a little more restricted after the break and Patrician actually closed the gap down to three points before substitute Ruairi McConville shut the door on the Monaghan challenge with a neat finish after a quick free.

McConville, who looked very sharp, had entered the fray just a few minutes earlier for his name-sake Aodhan who impressed with four points on his return to the team after breaking his col-lar-bone during the opening league game.

As anticipated, the impressive Barry McCambridge lined out in midfield and put in a good shift while central defence was well covered by the McAlindens, James and Sean.

McConville’s return to the attack opens a lot more possibilities for the management with Rioghan Meehan and Tiarnan Kelly also showing up well.

This quarter-final could have been a difficult one for them as they had no game since winning the MacCormack Cup final in November, while Patrician had just knocked out the holders Maghera.

By comparison St Colman’s progress has been more low-key; wins over St Patrick’s of Cavan and Armagh were expected but neither game rose to any great heights.

That will have pleased the management team led by Cathal Murray and so too will the improvement from the first game that was evident during the second.

Pre-competition there was little expectation of St Colman’s making a splash with this team, yet they are one step away from a 27th final.

They pulled away during the last 10 minutes against Cavan with a late Jack McCartan goal opening the gap for a 2-12 to 1-10 finish.

McCartan had started that game as a sub and got his place for the Armagh match, in which Rian O’Neill turned in a top class performance after his team had gone 1-3 to 0-1 down early in the game.

The Crossmaglen Ranger responded with three points in a row to bring them back into contention and his seventh point put St Colman’s 0-9 to 1-5 ahead before Eoghan McDonnell’s 43rd minute goal killed off Armagh.

The Newry side don’t tend to pack defence, but put faith in an attacking game and, should they follow that pattern in the Athletic Grounds, there could well be a high-scoring shoot-out.

In many people’s eyes, St Ronan’s are the form team, the strongest in the competition. Tonight will challenge that assertion and there is little doubt that the winner will be strongly favoured for the final on St Patrick’s Day.