Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup final
Abbey VS, Donegal v Our Lady and St Patrick’s, Knock (Sunday, the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds,1pm, live on Ulster GAA TV)
THE timing of the Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup final couldn’t have been worse for both Abbey VS and Our Lady & St Patrick’s Knock with several of the Donegal party on a ski trip, while Liam Blaney and Dara Quinn were scheduled to leave with the Knock basketball team on a trip to the USA.
As late as the middle of the week both schools were looking at options to re-arrange schedules so that they would be at full strength in their first ever MacLarnon final.
Knock, of course, reached the final for the first time four season ago, but didn’t get the opportunity to face St Pius X, Magherafelt with Covid shutting down all action just daysbefore the final.
Coincidentally, Knock met a decent St Pius X team in this year’s quarter-finals a month ago at Coláiste Feirste and came away with a 5-7 to 1-8 victory.
The damage was done in the first half via Luke Doran’s penalty strike and goals from Shea Pucci and Liam Blaney. Pucci added a second goal during the third quarter with substitute Mark Guest burying a fifth goal later on.
They were back in Coláiste Feirste for the semi-final derby with Rathmore Grammar that ended with a 2-6 to 0-10 victory, Blaney and Oran Donaldson the goalscorers.
Undoubtedly the attack operates around Blaney, who accumulated nine points as well as the two goals over those two games.
Liam is a son of former Down hurler Michael Blaney and it would be a big blow to Knock’s hopes if he and his cousin Dara Quinn were absent due to the basketball.
There is more substance to the south east Belfast school’s challenge, of course, with Conor Boyle, Luke Doran and Rory McCamphill playing well at the back, Owen O’Neill and Harry Thompson funnelling back to help and Oran Donaldson’s work-rate creating space up front.
However, such has been the dominance of Abbey through the competition that Knock really do need to be at full-strength and full throttle to have a chance of beating the Donegal men.
Built around the Four Masters team that reached successive St Paul’s minor tournament finals, winning the second six weeks ago, Abbey Vocational eased their way through the group stages before Christmas and then the two knockout games over the past few weeks.
Just three of the starting line-out from the semi-final didn’t start in one or both of the Donegal club’s Ulster minor wins.
From this year’s winning side are Daniel McGinty Terence McGovern, Callum McCrea, Kevin Muldoon, Tiarnan McBride, Turlough Carr and Conor McCahill while Leo McGowan, David Monaghan, Senan Carr, Caolán Sweeney and Conor Meehan were all present when they went downn arrowly to Dungiven.
It’s the school’s first real assault on the MacLarnon and they have made it look easy, particularly in the quarter-final against south Belfast’s Aquinas Grammar and thenDownpatrick’s Red High at the start of last week.
The movement on and off the ball at times has been breathtaking and they might well have run up more than 2-14 in each game.
Meehan, Muldoon, the Carr brothers and Callum McCrea have been very prominent, while McGinty saved a penalty against Aquinas. They are a formidable team and have carried well the favourites’ tag that they were given right back when the draw was made.
Five-time champions St Eunan’s, Letterkenny have been the most consistent Donegal presence in the MacLarnon Cup, but there have been three titles each for DeLa Salle, Ballyshannon and Pobalscoil Chloich Cheannfhaola along the way.
Unless Our Lady and St Patrick’s Knock produce the collective performance of their lives, a fourth Donegal school looks likely to make its mark and progress to the All-Ireland stage.