Danske Bank Mageean Cup final
St Killian’s, Garron Tower v Cross & Passion, Ballycastle (tonight, Dub Arena, 7.30pm)
IT'S hard to recall a Danske Bank Mageean Cup competition in recent years where the two finalists were so far ahead of the other teams.
By topping their respective groups, St Killian’s and Cross & Passion only had to play three games each to make it to the Dub Arena. But it was their scoring tallies from those games that really caught the eye.
CPC averaged almost 5-15 per game and conceded a meagre 1-7. St Killian’s also conceded an average of 1-7 per game and at the other end were averaging 5-19.
Broadly similar scorelines and well ahead of the pack, and that means that neither defence has really been tested. The final is probably the worst place to discover that you have a weakness.
St Killian’s got three goals and a point from their subs in the semi-final against Maghera, while both Callin Cane and Cadhan Crawford got on the score-sheet for Ballycastle against St Mary’s.
Both teams have forward options they can bring in.
There was also a lot of movement in the respective forward lines, players popping up in different areas of the pitch and then pumping passes down into the spaces they had just left.
Such fluidity will certainly challenge defences, although the tight Arena pitch will still favour the back-lines at each end.
The experience of playing in last year’s decider should stand to St Killian’s despite the fact that they lost by a goal to St Louis Ballymena.
They have nine survivors from that game in which Joseph McLaughlin shot 10 points. That individual performance has paled into the shadows after his stellar debut year with the Cushendall seniors.
He is joined on the school team by younger brother Thomas, who has been safe pair of hands between the posts, while survivors from last year include defenders Callagh Mooney, Niall Magee and Cailin Devlin along with five of the six starting forwards.
It has been four seasons since Cross & Passion won their 10th final. Therefore their players can’t draw on similar experience of a decider in the Dub.
But the school has a stronger recent tradition in the competition. It is fully 60 years since the Mageean Cup made its one and only visit to the Tower, while six of CPC’s 10 titles have come during the last two decades, with three of those teams going on to collect All-Irelands.
Tradition won’t get the sliotar over or under the bar, but it will help youngsters to know that their picture could go up on the school wall to inspire future generations and remain there for ever.
This CPC team is a young one and as many as a dozen will be eligible next year. However, the Donnellys, the McGarrys, recent additions Paudie Martin and Reece Cunning, as well as the talented Liam Glackin, want success now and they have the talent to break through a year early.
Will excellent former county minor Darragh Kelly passing a fitness test on an injured hand that kept him out of CPC’s semi-final? His addition could make a difference.
Then there are the stories that will emerge depending on who wins.
If it’s CPC, Paudie Martin will collect a second medal to add to the one he won 12 months ago with former school St Louis.
In more than 70 years of competitive schools’ senior hurling the only other player to win titles with two different schools was the St MacNissi’s goalie of the 1962 and 1963 wins, Brian Rainey, who became a winning midfielder in the first-ever St Mary’s CBS victory the following year.
If St Killian’s win, Joseph McLaughlin will become the story after scoring three points and a collecting a winner’s medal in the Ulster Club final in Páirc Esler last Sunday.
He is the Garron Tower captain who could be lifting the cup and bridging a gap of 60 years back to Rainey’s team.
It should be an excellent night at the Dub.