MacRory memories: St Patick's, Cavan begin their MacRory journey

St Patrick’s College, Cavan emerged in the 1930s as one of the finest teams ever to win MacRory Cup honours. How did this come about?

One man bestrode the stage of Cavan football in terms of organisation and development of the game at underage level, Fr. Patrick V Rudden in this era.

From his arrival onto the staff of St Patrick’s College in 1908, he became deeply involved in organising sport. First it was handball and then, from the end of the first decade onwards, football and hurling became his passion.

Soccer had co-existed for some time with these sports but it went into decline and, as happened in Armagh and Monaghan, it ‘was washed away completely by the tide of nationalism which swept the country from 1916 onwards.’

St Patrick’s first match was in August 1913 when they played an Antrim selection at Wattlebridge, Co Fermanagh. Calling themselves the ‘Sons of St Patrick,’ they wore black jerseys with a tricolour crest and the letters ‘SPC'.

Thereafter, the ‘Sons of St Patrick’ concentrated on hurling but by the early 1920s both codes went into decline due mainly to a  split which  developed within the college between the students of east Cavan and  the students of Leitrim and west Cavan. The root cause was political, dating back to the North Leitrim by-election in 1908 when west Cavan students supported Sinn Féin and east Cavan students were strongly Hibernian. Often spilling over into violence and gang warfare, sport and particularly football was the real victim.

In this context, Rudden found it difficult to field a team to represent the College in the MacRory competition. The decision to change  jerseys did act as a healing agent. The use of the name of the diocese - ‘Cill Mor -’ on the jersey represented a compromise from which nobody  could take offence.

 In September1927, Fr. Rudden  wrote to the MacRory Cup committee expressing an interest in joining the competition but had reservations about the age-limit of players. He favoured a limit of under 19 in August of the year of the competition. 

At a meeting of the newly formed Colleges’ Council in 1928 decided  that ‘the maximum school-age for competitions under the Colleges’ Councils to be under 20 on 1st August. Rudden reluctantly agree and Cavan were  now on board.

Armagh were their opponents on their first MacRory outing  at Breffni Park on December 1928. Not a great start as they found themselves twelve points in arrears at half time. But a fight-back, which would be the hall-mark of future Breffni sides, failed to claw back the three-point difference at the end.

Defenders Reilly, Masterson and McElroy, as well as forwards Fox, Farrell and Morgan could be proud of their debut in the black and gold jersey. In the words of the Anglo Celt ‘they proved themselves worthy bearers of the colours of the diocese of Kilmore.’

From 1928 onwards, Breffni sides were to prove difficult opponents but it was 1935 before the breakthrough came and by the end of the decade they had captured four colleges’ titles.