First-time winner of MacLarnon Cup guaranteed as Rathmore take on St Joseph's, Donaghmore

St Joseph's, Donaghmore are appearing in their first MacLarnon Cup decider while Rathmore have reached their first final since 2007
St Joseph's, Donaghmore are appearing in their first MacLarnon Cup decider while Rathmore have reached their first final since 2007

Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup final: St Joseph’s Donaghmore v Rathmore Grammar (Friday, the Dub Arena, 7.30pm)

THERE has really been a fresh look about the knock-out stages of the Danske Bank Dr MacLarnon Cup.

None of this year’s four semi-finalists had ever won the title and we now have St Joseph’s, Donaghmore in their first final up against Rathmore, who appeared in the their only decider away back in 2007 when they lost to St Eunan’s, Letterkenny inspired by a young Michael Murphy.

There was probably more expectation on Donaghmore than Rathmore this season. After all the Tyrone side were bitterly disappointed in losing the semi-final 12 months ago.

They also had plenty of players left from that defeat to Patrician High, Carrickmacross, who not only won the MacLarnon, but contested this year’s MacRory Cup semi-final, where they were beaten by a point by Omagh CBS.

Donaghmore have had a couple of comfortable wins over Antrim schools in the last few weeks.

In the quarter-final, Mattie McNally grabbed three goals in their 3-12 to 0-8 win over St Mary’s, with the Belfast side restricted to just one score from open play.

It was a similar story in the semi-final in Slaughtneil a fortnight ago; St Louis Ballymena had just three pointed frees recorded coming into the last five minutes and then added two scores from play.

St Joseph’s had bagged 1-12 – but that total should have been higher as they shot some poor wides in the opening half.

Nevertheless they look like a team that could not only win tonight, but could go on to make an impression at All-Ireland level.

Noah Grimes scored 1-3 in Slaughtneil, but was kept out of the frame for long periods by both the Ballymena defence and his team-mates who explored other avenues rather than clog up the area around Grimes.

And there were other players worth going to, even if McNally didn’t catch fire as he did in the earlier round. Ronan Molloy recorded five points for the second game running and Darragh Donaghy, a late addition in the semi-final, should have guaranteed himself a starting place.

Conor O’Neill was also impressive attacking from half-back, but the Donaghmore defence as a whole cannot really be assessed unless they are under a lot more pressure.

Rathmore are probably surprise finalists. A couple of days after a number of the team featured in losing the Casement Cup hurling final to St Mary’s, Magherafelt, they edged out Aquinas in the Belfast quarter-final derby with a couple of late scores from captain Fintan O’Boyle. 

O’Boyle was leading from the front again in the semi-final with good support from Michael Morgan (1-2) and Ruairí McErlean (0-4) as they defeated a fancied Loreto, Milford team by 1-13 to 0-8.

Morgan’s goal came 10 minutes into the second half and that opened a gap that the south Belfast side were able to maintain, with Déaglán Mooney, the Lloyd brothers and Sé Ferris tight at the back and McErlean and O’Boyle filtering back to relieve the pressure and carry ball forward.

Rathmore have upset the odds in the last two games, while Donaghmore did all they were expected to do. The Tyrone school are favourites for a first title – this time I think the Rathmore train will run out of steam.