A DECADE is a long time for a school such as St Patrick’s College to wait to taste the success from a Hogan Cup win, but two players are confidant that the glory days are ready to return.
Gerald Bradley and Declan Hughes have been two of the team’s top performers at opposite ends of the field, and are uniquely placed to look back over their Hogan Cup semi-final and forward to the big match on Saturday.
Bradley, who has operated in the half-forward line, got one of the team’s three goals in their semi-final against St Gerald’s College, Castlebar.
“We got off to a slow enough start in the semi but when we got used to the wind we started playing together as a team and we were able to find their weaknesses,” he told the MAIL.
“Thankfully we went into half time in the lead and I thought we’d go out in the second half and win it with something to spare.
“I think our boys got just a wee bit complacent. It seemed during training leading up to the game that we felt we had the job done, having the MacRory and all. I don’t know if we realised just how big a competition the Hogan is.
“To win the MacRory was massive for our school and I think that after getting that one off our backs we relaxed too much and took the foot off the pedal.
“The boys started to realise, about ten minutes into the Castlebar game, that we had a real match on our hands. Thankfully, we were able to get back into it and then go past them.
“I think they may have known more about us than we did about them. They were at the MacRory final so they were able to learn a lot from that.”
After a strong start, St Pat’s went into the half ahead thanks to goals from Bradley and Conor Glass but the Connacht champions netted after half-time to cut the margin to two.
Another Glass goal eased any Maghera nerves and sent them into the decider against St Patrick’s Classical School of Navan.
The Meath school edged out Munster champions Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibne 2-7 to 0-11 in the other semi-final.
“We said, going into the semi-final, that the incentive was to play at Croke Park. Now that we are there we want to get our hands on that cup,” Bradley said.
“There will be a buzz around the school before the match and hopefully we will have the same number of people that supported us in the MacRory Cup final in Croke Park on Saturday.”
On his team’s success this year, Bradley singles out two aspects that have been nurtured by the two managers, Martin McConnell and Sean Marty Lockhart.
“There are a few mature heads in the team who can read the game very well and know how to deal with any problems that arise. We don’t look to the sidelines to make the calls; we see what is going on and make the changes ourselves. Leadership on the pitch is a key part of our team,” Bradley said.
“We’ve worked all year on supporting the play and getting strong runners coming through with the ball. Most of our success has come from really concentrating on that.
“No matter how good you play there is always something to improve on and I’m glad that we got a bit of a wake-up call against Castlebar.”
Declan Hughes has been one of the quiet stars of the Maghera team this year. The Lavey full-back has hassled and harried and helped his team to some outstanding defensive displays in the run to the Hogan Cup final.
“This is the big one. I’ve never had the chance of playing in a stadium the size of Croke Park but you have to be focussed going into it and not let the buzz get to you,” Hughes, who plays as a forward for his club, described.
“The Hogan Cup will be the biggest game I’ll ever play at school. We’ve only got four wins in this so it shows you that even despite all our success in the MacRory we have not always gone on to win it automatically. We are going to have to work for it.
“When you were younger you used to walk through the halls seeing the pictures of the teams who have won the MacRory and the Hogan, and I always dreamed about being in that situation. Now we have that chance.
“The most complete performance that we’ve had, in my view, was the semi-final replay against Colman’s. We played okay in patches in the MacRory final, but I think we will have to reproduce the Colman’s form if we are going to take this Cup.
“Even Seamus Downey my club’s chairman, an All-Ireland winner, was telling me that he lost a Hogan final by a point. He’s won club and county All-Ireland’s and still sees that game as his one big regret from his football career. I think if we manage to win it, he will be as happy for us as anyone.
“For us, we just have to get it into our heads that we will be playing at Croke Park, they will be a very good team, but after all that, it is just another game which we want to win.”