A YEAR is a long time in sport.
Twelve months ago, an exuberant St Patrick’s College team stormed into a commanding half-time lead in the MacRory Cup final against St Michael’s Enniskillen before blowing themselves to a calm and surrendering the cup to the Fermanagh team.
Not so this year, according to Captain Connor Carville.
“It is a massive day for the school and the community. A lot of people have been involved in helping us to this point, but for the team it has to be all about the football. We can’t get too involved with all the excitement of the day. We will hopefully be able to enjoy it afterwards, but we have to focus on the football first,” Connor told the MAIL.
“The experience of last year’s final has definitely stood to us and I think the boys are coping with the hype around the final a bit better than last year. I think maybe the whole school is coping with it a bit better too! The whole place went mad last year, but this time it has been a bit calmer.
“Our team is really close-knit. We all get on really well and hang around together. We’ve been friends for seven years and have won cups together the whole way through school and I think it has brought us all together. It is a really good thing to be a part of this team and the bond of friendship. Hopefully, that will help us as a team.”
Carville knows that St Paul’s will be a tough nut to crack; they may even have a slight psychological advantage over the South Derry men having beaten Maghera in the McCormick Cup final earlier in the year.
“There will be a lot of hype around Bessbrook, and there deserves to be – they are a very good side. I will be looking to a good game,” he said.
“I was very impressed with them in the McCormick Cup final. They beat us with a goal in the last few minutes but you can’t really compare that match with the MacRory Cup final. This is a completely different situation.
“They’ll not be easily beaten, but that is the challenge that awaits us.
A decorated footballer for both club and college, Carville will have the chance to become the first St Patrick’s College captain to lift the grand old trophy since Gerard O’Kane in 2003. Not that the level-headed student thinks that brings any added stress:
“Both teams are under pressure, but as a footballer I don’t think about a game in those terms,” he said. “Your mindset has to be different from the people in the stand. They can feel and talk about the pressure, but for us it is about settling down and focussing on the things on the pitch. That’s what we are there for, nothing else.
“There is no real way of guessing how this match will go – the weather, the referee – there are outside factors that come into the game as it goes along. You can bet that Bessbrook will have their patch of dominance and we will have ours.
“We are playing in Armagh, in Bessbrook’s back garden, and a few of their boys will have played there for the county, even in the senior panel, so it really is their home match. That alone means that we are up against it.
“The boys cannot wait to get the school week over and get out there. A few of us feel like we have to make up for last year. Certainly, there is still hurt there, but we are also looking forward to it and cannot wait for Monday to come.”
A quarter-final victory over Enniskillen was followed by a replay win over the old enemy St Colman’s in the semis, but Carville sees his side as more than just a defensive team. He sees a team on an upward trajectory, ready to peak at the right time.
“I suppose that people would see us as a good defensive side, but I think are best quality is how fast we move the ball, how quick we get it into our forwards. We should have beaten St Colman’s by ten points. We had so many chances and I think if we take our opportunities when they come our way we will put ourselves in a good position to beat Bessbrook.
“I know they are a hard-tackling team so that will make it harder to get the shooting right but it always comes down to getting the ball over the bar in any game. If we match or better their work rate that’ll give us the result we want.
“We have three Colleges AllStars – Stevie O’Hara at full forward, James Kearney in midfield and myself at centre half back – and a Hurling AllStar too, Gerald Bradley, so we have a few decent players. But it goes further than that; we have a panel full of great players. I feel we are strong all over the pitch and have no weak links.
“We are all together in this, we are all strong and hopefully, come Monday, we can bring it all together and bring the cup back to Maghera.”