GAA Football

Magherafelt in better position to take on established order in schools football

St Mary's, Magherafelt won the MacRory Cup on February 13 with victory over Holy Trinity, Cookstown and manager Kevin Brady is hoping the two weeks since then has given them enough time to prepare for tomorrow's Hogan Cup semi-final against St Brendan's, Killarney
SEAMAS McALEENAN

Masita Hogan Cup semi-final: St Mary’s, Magherafelt v St Brendan’s, Killarney (tomorrow, Connacht Centre of Excellence, 5.30pm, TG4 Sport YouTube)

TWO schools with a rich history in schools’ football have made it through to the Masita Hogan Cup semi-finals tomorrow afternoon and they will face two of the new breed, schools that have only claimed their first provincial title in the past few years.

St Mary’s, Magherafelt and Naas CBS belong to the latter category. St Mary’s have won just two MacRory Cup titles, the first five years ago, while Naas recently won their third Leinster title. The first was in 2019.

St Mary’s have St Brendan’s, Killarney as opponents. A couple of weeks ago they beat holders Tralee CBS by 0-17 to 0-12 to win Corn Uí Mhuirí for the 23rd time and they are attempting to win a fifth Hogan Cup.

Apart from that formidable tradition behind them they have some very useful players this season, none more so than inside forwards Will Shine and captain Cian McMahon who played against Derry in the 2020 All-Ireland minor final that was completed last summer.

In total there are five players in the Killarney team who lost that final to Derry while Magherafelt feature three. They are captain Eoin McEvoy and Niall O’Donnell who started in Croke Park and Ryan McEldowney who came in as a substitute.

Not surprisingly all three featured strongly for the Convent in their unbeaten run to a second MacRory title this year with McEvoy the driving force at half-back while McEldowney has been a regular scorer from midfield.

Inside forward O’Donnell scored a goal and three points in both the quarter-final against St Patrick’s Academy and the final against Holy Trinity. He also set up the decisive goal for Conhuir Johnston in the semi-final win over a third Tyrone school, Omagh CBS, although he himself didn’t score in that game.

In a similar vein, Johnston scored excellent goals in both the quarter-final and semi-final, but failed to score in the final. He is one of three Cargin players in the forward line all making huge contributions to the team’s progress.

Team manager Kevin Brady feels that the team should be in better shape for the Hogan semi-final challenge than they were back in 2017.

“Back then there was a five-day turnaround between the MacRory final and the Hogan semi. It was just too much for us to cope with after winning the school’s first ever title," he said.

“This time we have had a gap of two weeks and that has allowed the boys to enjoy their victory and then get back training, get refocussed for the Hogan. We have been pushing the message that we will have plenty of time in the future to look back on the MacRory (win), but we have to look ahead now and take the next step.”

The former Moneyglass and Antrim forward understands that the next step for the school is to win the Hogan but, as with the MacRory, it will be one game at a time.

“The school has played in three MacRory finals in six years now. We feel that we now have a MacRory profile and the next obvious step is make our mark on the All-Ireland as St Ronan’s did after beating us in 2018.

“We have boys in the team who have played in Croke Park before and would like to get back there. We are through to the semi-finals on merit but we need to really focus for this game against St Brendan’s.

“They will be a big challenge. They have a big reputation in the Hogan Cup. But there is no reason why we can’t beat them and get to play in Croke Park.”

Tomorrow's other semi-final (Tubber, 1pm) sees St Jarlath’s, Tuam with their 12 Hogan titles playing Naas CBS who, like Magherafelt, play at this stage for just the second time.

The last two Hogan finals have been contested by two schools each in search of a first ever title. Wins for Naas and Magherafelt would continue that trend.

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