Can St.Patrick’s College Maghera win MacRory Cup number fifteen?

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For a long spell, St.Patricks Maghera was a name synonymous with a MacRory Cup Final on the feast of the patron saint - and now they are back again where they belong!

Yes, an old tradition is restored this Thursday when MacRory Cup Final at 1.15pm in Athletic Grounds in Armagh features the South Derry College against new boys St Paul’s Bessbrook, with the match live on BBC television.

Maghera go into the game as their 24th final appearance., with a remarkable 14 wins to date.  And victory this year would leave them clear second on roll of honour.

“We have seen the quieter times in the school, when we had to watch Tyrone schools having a period of near dominance” stated the Maghera coach, Paul Hughes.

“Our final in 2012 with Sean Lockhart and Martin McConnell in charge brought the buzz back into the school.

“The MacRory Cup always brings an extra energy, enthusiasm and desire for everyone in the school.” But he warns that it will not be easily won.

“Bessbrook are well coached team by John Rafferty who is well known in Bellaghy and Slaughtneil, and he knows south Derry well. They have come through Armagh derby games in play-offs and semi-final and were very good value for their quarter-final win over Enniskillen - who beat Maghera in the league stages.

“Keen to avenge their narrow defeat by Maghera in the MacRory final three years ago, they will not lack motivation.

“They are a very good team backboned by a strong spine - Declan Loye at fullback and Liam Kerr a play anywhere forward, colleges allstars Jarlath Óg Burns is a fantastic ballwinner and carrier in the middle and Damian O’Hagan adds physical strength and stopping power there also.

“Their halfback line is a springboard for their attack with Ryan Gaskin, 1-2 in three knockout games, at six and Chris Clarke, just back from injury, fresh and a big player at seven - very attack-minded with the cover coming from half forwards dropping back.

“Shea Loye at 14 is an excellent target man and has fired 26 points in the competition so far. All over they are a hard working and cohesive team, not as physically big overall as Dungannon but carry more pace and running power

“Last year’s Ulster Minor win with Damian was a fantastic achievement and allowed people to dream big again in the county. And, if these boys can add a MacRory, it emphasises a generation of talented players coming through, all on the back of what clubs like Glen and Slaughtneil have achieved and will hopefully push others to aspire to.

“The buzz in the school is unbelievable; everyone wants to be part of the big day and enjoy it. Obviously the boys’ performances will impact on that, but this - like 2012 - inspires another generation of pupils to be ambitious and challenge themselves as they move through the year groups. They’ve seen it done and they dream of doing it themselves.

“MacRory always demands the very best of the players in terms of fitness, skills etc but more importantly the attitude has to be right. They have to know the level of competitiveness to expect and the intensity of the physical battle needed. There are no easy ways to win a MacRory Cup.

“Add in the hype and the big occasion and there are so many things there that can take away from the level of performance that is demanded.

“Colum Lavery talks to the boys about things being contagious and that can include poor decision making, getting basic things done well as often as possible to take the pressure off and allow the team plan to take over. Then it is much easier for everyone to stick to what they need to do.

“You always hope to get the perfect show on the big day, but how often does it really happen due to pressure of nerves, big crowd and, of course, the intensity brought by the other team?

“We have played in fits and starts and the 10-20 minute good spells we have shown in each knockout game to date won’t be enough to win.

“We will need to ensure that we get more things right more often, like our tackling being disciplined and effective, our use of the ball being good all over the pitch, ensuring the ball goes dead when in possession to prevent the fast break - and not allowing Bessbrook close us down easily.

“MacRory offers a unique opportunity to play high level sport with their friends, boys they have been with for maybe seven years of their school life, travelled together on buses to all sorts of places and played against a wide range of teams.

“They’ve embraced and survived hard work and tough training and have all come through it with experiences they can bring to future teams and their clubs, to pass on to younger generation the ambition to work hard, know how to be competitive and appreciate the unique value of Gaelic football at this level” he added.