FOR Fr Paddy Delargy Wednesday evening’s Danske Bank Mageean Cup final at the Dub was another roller-coaster 60 plus minutes of hurling. This time the outcome was different.
Paddy Delargy was on the only St MacNissi’s Garron Tower team to win the Mageean Cup title in the autumn of 1963. It was the school’s fourth successive Ulster Colleges’ senior hurling crown.
“Coming through the school, (now Fr) PJ McCamphill and Paddy Hamilton were my heroes,” Fr Delargy said.
They were the senior hurlers and PJ was the captain when we won in 1960. We won again in ‘61 and then I was on the panel the next year - not good enough to get a place on the team though; PJ’s brother Séamas was captain, another great hurler,” he recalled after he had gone around and individually congratulated almost all the St Killian’s team on Wednesday evening.
“Eneas Black, who died on Christmas Day there, was on those three teams and was still there the next year when I got my place on the team and we won again. We had a very good team again, Eddie Donnelly and boys like that were coming through.”
A new trophy, the Mageean Cup, had been presented that year to Ulster Colleges by the students of Dromantine college. But it didn’t arrive in time for the final game of the round-robin series and the Senior Shield that had been the trophy since the start of the competition a dozen years earlier was given to captain Oliver Keenan to place in front of the team for the photograph.
The Mageean Cup arrived in the school some time later that year.
That season for the first time Ulster Colleges entered a team in the All-Ireland series, the Croke Cup, and Garron Tower got to play in Croke Park where they lost to St Peter’s Wexford. Paddy Delargy didn’t make it.
“I took jaundice in the spring of 64. I was very weak and couldn’t train. I probably was over it by the time we were to go to Dublin. But the rule was that if you didn’t train, you didn’t play. So I missed out on Croke Park.”
Although he made up for that by representing Antrim minors in Croke Park the following year, much more frustration was to follow at schools’ level.
“The next year we lost 13 players from that panel. It was the year that A Levels changed from a one year course to two years and some boys didn’t want to stay another year. Brian Rainey our goalie who was a boarder from Belfast left and went to St Mary’s.
“He played midfield against us and they narrowly beat us to win their first title. If he had been with us, we would have made it five in a row!”
Hurling fortunes dipped after that for Tower teams and by the mid 1970s they didn’t have enough players to field at senior level. However they re-entered in the mid-1980s and were back as contenders when the now Fr Delargy arrived back as Principal at the start of the 90s.
“Tommy Lismore brought them to three finals in a row but we lost all three. It was very hard to work with Maghera.
“They had good hurlers, a good manager in Joe McGurk and practically their whole team were drawn from Sixth Formers who were also MacRory Cup players. Their physicality was something we struggled to contain.
“We beat Maghera in a semi-final a couple of years later, but lost the final in Casement Park to St Mary’s.”
By the time they reached their next final with Neil McManus as captain in 2005, Fr Delargy had moved to a parish in Belfast but was still hurling every ball with the Tower and it was the same with the more recent final defeats under the St Killian’s banner in 2016 and last year. He found Wednesday evening’s final very tense and the outcome emotional.
“Both teams played great open hurling in the earlier rounds. But they probably cancelled each other out tonight. The match-ups were spot on. We contained their main scorers and CPC did the same to us. It was a physical game, but this team could take it and give it. In fact they revelled in the challenge.
“We still couldn’t shake them off and I was really worried at the start of injury time when Cross & Passion brought it back to two points. But Joseph McLaughlin struck over a free from a very difficult angle and then another point from play.
“I found it very emotional indeed. I think everyone concerned with Garron Tower down the years just felt relief more than euphoria. There has been a feeling out there that Garron Tower teams couldn’t win finals no matter how good they are. That’s gone now.
“It is a huge lift for the school and will be good for future Garron Tower players and teams, but it will also be good for the feeder club teams and Antrim. It has been a long time happening. After 60 years I am thankful that I have seen it eventually happen.”