A tremendous challenge awaits St.Patrick’s College in the showpiece of the Ulster College season, according to Maghera Head of Sport, Paul Hughes.
The Derrytresk man, who manages the team alongside Colm Lavery, believes that his team will have to be at their defensive best to prevent the Omagh CBS hot shots from capitalising.
“We definitely have a job on our hands,” he told the MAIL. “It’s a nice job to have as MacRory has always had a special affinity with St.Patrick’s College even from the time when I came here in 1985. Adrian McGuckin at that time was in ten consecutive MacRory finals and it was a pilgrimage for the teachers and pupils of St.Patrick’s Maghera to go to Armagh on St.Patrick’s Day to the MacRory Cup final.
“Now we are on the cusp of three finals in a row and I have to say that Marty (McConnell) and Sean Marty (Lockhart) who were in charge for the first two finals have done a tremendous job putting us back up there on the pedestal that is the MacRory Cup final.
“I think Omagh are a very good team - a very well organised team. Kieran (Donnelly, Omagh CBS coach) has done a tremendous job with them. We’ve watched them a couple of times and have played them in a friendly game post-Christmas and they wiped the floor with us in the first half with their defensive system.
“It’s probably harsh to call it a defensive system because they break out very quickly and they have a couple of star men up there - young Joe Colton and Gavin Slane. Those are two chaps who could win the game on their own - they carry a serious scoring threat.
“But they also have a system which everyone is comfortable with and when you have a group of players in that position it’s always a very good position to be in because everybody knows what their role is.
“They are a team which probably haven’t featured up through this age group in the school, but here, all of a sudden, they have come through a hugely impressive run.”
This run included a replay victory over St.Colman’s, Newry by a point as well as defeat of a much-fancied St.Patrick’s Academy side from Dungannon three days later. Such was their victory that they were able to field a team without talismanic Padraig McGirr who was injured.
“We were able to go down and watch that game and I thought they handled it tremendously,” Paul said. “They have a great capacity for scoring - Slane and Colton seem to be key score-getters. Ronan McHugh is a huge player for them as well. They are a very, very good, disciplined, well-organised team who will definitely be very hard to beat.”
Both teams will be far from defensively-minded but almost certainly defensively-strong when they line out at the Athletic Grounds on Monday.
“People may point out that Omagh have given up eight-point leads in those three knock out games they have played, but I would focus more on the fact that they have built up an eight-point lead! What you do find with Omagh is that they build strongly from the back, they get good possession, they get good control of the ball and are able to hit their key men up front...and they’ve still had the character to grab the scores at the end.”
Paul also paid respect to the work of his co-manager, Colm Lavery.
“Colm is just the epitome of what St.Patrick’s is about - he’s quiet, he’s modest, he does the job well, he’s very enthusiastic. He has great imagination and enjoys pushing the team.
“And there are some of the boys on this panel who have a tremendous record with their clubs, have won and played at a top level and that is a massive experience for them and a massive advantage for us. They will be saying, “We can do this.”
“I don’t think that there will ever be too much between the teams in a MacRory final. If you track the history of the finals you find that rarely does one team score a big victory over the other. You probably have a raft of players in their final year and they do not want to go out with a whimper.
“You can be sure that both teams will absolutely be pushing each other hard. It’ll be a tough game, it’ll be a close game, and the team that manages to take the most opportunities that they create will be the team that inevitably come out on top.”