IT has been ten long years since St Patrick’s College have lifted the MacRory Cup.
Traditionally one of the powerhouses of Colleges football, Maghera coach Martin McConnell will be aiming to re-capture the MacRory Cup for the thirteenth time after the disappointment of a losing final last time out.
“Last year whetted our appetite,” the Clogher native said. “It was the first time in nine years that we had made it to the final. On the day we just didn’t play well enough to win the game. Thankfully this year we are back again in the final.
“The school has a tremendous legacy in the MacRory Cup with the Adrian McGuckin era. We are trying to create our own legacy, following in the steps of Adrian and Paul Hughes and those men who have done it all.
“We have a very good bunch of lads who have worked exceptionally hard and who have had a lot of pressure on them because from the outset people had us down as favourites. We would always have looked on one game at a time. Before Christmas it was all about qualification, then it was about the semis and now it is about the final.
“It is going to take a big game on Monday to bring it home,” said McConnell.
“Bessbrook are the only team in the MacRory Cup this year who are undefeated. They’ve won everything and beat us in the McCormick Cup final pre-Christmas and on the night they probably deserved to win the game. But that result will count for very little come Monday. The bottom line is that the team that wants it most will win the game.
“This is their first time in the MacRory Cup, but they’ve worked their way up through the ranks and we will give them the respect they deserve. I expect them to have an incredible hunger to win the cup, but I maintain that we have 34 boys who have never won a MacRory either and they want it every bit as much.
“It all points to an interesting and exciting game. We are looking forward to it but it will take a big performance on the day. Thankfully many of our guys have the experience of last year to fall back on. It didn’t work out last time, but thankfully they have a second bite at it. Hopefully, that’ll stand for a lot on Monday.”
History has a funny old way of putting the right people in the right place at the right time, and perhaps this final comes at the right time for both McConnell and his team. The significance of a victory over the school that beat them in 2012 and their old rivals St Colman’s is not lost on the manager, but it is the threat posed by St Paul’s that keeps his attention.
“This will be Bessbrook’s fourth final in two years so they will also have a lot of experience, but our boys have won everything the whole way through school,” he said. “There is no doubt about it that these are the best two teams out there and whoever wins is going to be considered a very special bunch of players.
“Their captain, Ciaran O’Hanlon, is a tremendous player, already called into the senior panel, and they’ve also players like Gregory McCabe and Daniel Nugent who are great footballers. But we’ve got superb footballers across the board, so we’ll only worry about ourselves.
“Bessbrook is built around a lot of talented individuals but their work ethic is second to none. They tackle in numbers and can take some great scores. They beat Monaghan in the semi-final convincingly and they defeated The Abbey in a local derby in the quarters. They come into the game on the back of two huge performances.
“Maghera come into the match on an upwards trajectory. Our last game was probably our best against Colman’s. We found last year that there are so many wee small things that count for so much. Hopefully, they will break our way on Monday. I know that our hunger will be unsurpassed.
“Thankfully our boys are very level-headed. We have a lot of boys who have won a number of medals for club and school, and they will take the build-up in their stride. Our boys aren’t worrying about the game and are focussed on getting it right for Monday. They know it is just about a game of football.
“We have got some seriously good players on the bench; boys who have never been a sub in the lives! So, I think it’ll be the boys who we spring from the bench who will have as big a part as anyone to play in this game. In both semis and the quarter-final we have used twenty players. We are not just relying on fifteen.”