GAA Football

MacRory Cup final honours - so near and yet so far for some schools

Séamas McAleenan

A MACRORY Cup medal is a prized possession and seems to increase in value as the recipient ages.

Players who reach a MacRory Cup final generally have invested a lot of their final years in second level education working towards that goal.

But for every winner there is a loser who has invested just as much in getting their picture taken with the trophy to have it mounted in the corridors of their alma mater.

Some players get a second chance at the prize and a few of those realise their dream. Most don’t.

In Part I of a three-day series this week, we look at schools that have reached a final, even multiple finals, but still have to get the name engraved on the cup.

And we find out that the narrow defeats, the game-changing incidents still gnaw away at the participants, be it four years, 14 years or indeed 54 years on from the actual final.

St Paul’s, Bessbrook

2016: St Patrick’s, Maghera 5-7 St Paul’s 1-9

2013: St Patrick’s, Maghera 2-5 St Paul’s 0-10

St Paul’s were new to Colleges’ football when they won the 2012 MacLarnon Cup final, beating St Columb’s, Derry 1-10 to 0-6. Prior to that they had played in Vocational Schools’ competitions.

John Rafferty, then and now, the coach to the senior teams in St Paul’s acknowledges the support of school principal Oliver Mooney in their transition to playing MacRory football the following season.

“We were well aware of the step up from MacLarnon, but after 2012 we needed a challenge and Oliver stepped up in terms of resources and also his personal support for us. Without that it would have been too difficult to make the transition.

“We beat Abbey and St Macartan’s to reach the final, while Maghera dethroned Enniskillen and then beat St Colman’s in a replay. Throw in that Maghera had won every title through the age-groups and it is not hard to see that we were huge under-dogs going into the final.

“But we had beaten Maghera in the MacCormack final before Christmas. In general terms that was a help in getting the boys to believe in themselves.

“We had set-backs in that final. We conceded two goals; one of them was a good goal, the other was one of those flukes that happen on wet windy days. In fact I still can’t work out how the ball defied the laws of physics to make it into the net.

“But we kept coming back and staying in contention. There was a great save from Ciaran McCloy near the end. If that had gone in, we would have won for sure. But I was more disappointed with the scores we missed through the second half.

“That was a game that we could have won. We were well beaten in 2016 by a Maghera team that went on to win the Hogan – the best team in Ireland that year.

“Jarlath óg Burns came on as a sub in 2013 and he was our captain in 2016. That later team played well together to reach the final, but we had a horrible start.

“Maghera scored three goals in the first ten minutes and we were 4-4 to 0-5 down at half time. Yet I felt that we still had a chance.

“We got a goal opportunity just after half time. If that had gone in we might have done something. But no, we were beaten by a better team on the day.

“Conor Clarke and Liam Kerr gave us a boost transferring from other schools to join us for Sixth Form and both have great senior careers ahead of them.”

From the earlier team, Aaron McKay, Gregory McCabe, Connaire Mackin have come through to the Armagh side with Jarlath óg already through from 2016.

“I got a great kick out of seeing Ryan McSherry win a Sigerson with St Mary’s a couple of years ago and I think that you might see a few more boys make it over the next couple of years.”

Words to the wise...

''In school you learn a lot sitting at a desk that helps you pass exams. But you also can learn a lot more on a training pitch flailing around in the muck and gutters in the depth of winter,” says John Rafferty.

St Eunan’s, Letterkenny

1956 St Macartan’s, Monaghan 2-7 St Eunan’s 2-6

1959 Abbey CBS 3-7 St Eunan’s 1-3

1961 St Patrick’s Cavan 1-13 St Eunan’s 0-5

A Latin teacher was responsible for St Eunan’s moving from MacRory occasional participants to contenders during a short period in the 1950s.

John Wilson had won All-Ireland medals with his native Cavan including in the Polo Grounds final in New York in 1947.

St Eunan’s had first played MacRory Cup football in the 1930s but their geographical location inhibited their participation down through the years; some years they played a game or two, other years they didn’t.

But Wilson had them fully involved in the 1955-56 season.

They demolished St Malachy’s Belfast in an early round but lost to St Macartan’s and only reached the final on score-difference, edging out St Patrick’s Cavan.

Backed by a gale-force wind St Macartan’s totted up an interval lead of 2-5 to no score.

In the second half Paddy Ward and Brian O’Donnell took over at midfield and goals from John Campbell and Frank Gannon closed the gap so that the sides were level with five minutes to go.

Gabriel Murray however popped up for the winning point as St Macartan’s claimed their ninth and last title.

It was to be the closest St Eunan’s would get. Four of the team were selected on the inter-provincial schools’ team – Harry Strain, Sean Halpin, Ward and Campbell – with Campbell, goalie Sean Ferriter and captain Antoin McGettigan going on to feature for Donegal seniors over the next decade and a half.

The 1959 final was played in Omagh and the teams travelled by train. St Eunan’s were without their star forward Peter Sweeney and struggled for scores, hitting 11 wides and just a point in the first half.

Tony McDevitt scored their goal in the third quarter to narrow the gap to three points, but Abbey responded with two quick goals and the Donegal side were gone.

There was an even more emphatic score-line in the 1961 final against St Patrick’s Cavan in Irvinestown, as they were outplayed by Phil Brady, Ray Carolan, Jimmy Stafford and Paddy McNamee.

For the Sentry Hill boys only John McMenamin, Hugh McBride and Charlie Kavannagh shone.

John Wilson took up a post in Gonzaga College in Dublin midway through that campaign – although he returned to supervise training and games at the weekend. Later he was to enter politics for Fianna Fáil, serving as TD for Cavan Monaghan 1973 – 1993, the latter three years as Tánaiste.

Since then St Eunan’s have been more comfortable in the MacLarnon Cup which they have won on five occasions.

They reached a MacRory semi-final just over a decade ago with Michael Murphy as captain. The Wilson years were their best.

In tomorrow's Irish News: St Louis, Kilkeel under the MacRory spotlight..

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football