Champions a stern test for St Patrick’s

THE MacRory Cup footballers of St Patrick’s Maghera will return to the Morgan Athletic Grounds in Armagh on Friday evening (7.30pm) for the semi-final of this year’s competition when they face no less an opposition than the reigning MacRory and Hogan Cup Champions in St Colman’s Newry. It will be a return to the ground also for the champions as they destroyed the St Mary’s Belfast challenge there last week in a quarter-final replay when they rattled over 17 points and probably should have added at least three goals to that tally such was their dominance and quality of performance. St Colman’s will be favourites for the game and the Maghera boys will certainly need to up their performance if they are to upset the odds in what is a clash of the traditional MacRory Cup giants from yesteryear.

St Colman’s will argue the case, and rightly so, that they have earned their way back to the top of the tree in Colleges football with their back to back MacRory and Hogan Cup successes of the past two years and they will look to extend that run to make it to a third successive MacRory Cup final. Their team may not have many survivors from last year but the winning of successive MacRory and Hogan Cups has certainly brought a swagger and confidence to their team which will ensure they will not tolerate defeat easily on semi-final day.

Maghera have been recent visitors to the Athletic Grounds when they came from behind to grab a late one point win over the other Newry school, Abbey CBS, in their quarter-final. They are at a disadvantage in that St Colman’s have been through two knock-out games at this stage while they also know the feeling of almost exiting the competition in that first game against Belfast. Maghera though will relate to the latter experience as despite periods of dominance against Abbey they struggled to put scores on the board and they will need to be much more assured in this department on Friday evening.

The Maghera team changed significantly during that Abbey game with all five subs coming in and contributing to the team’s get out of jail performance – which personnel will start on Friday becomes a very significant factor. St Patrick’s will need big performances at the back from team captain Conor McAtamney, Brendan Rogdgers, Conor McCarville and Oisin Hegarty if they are to keep the Colman’s sextet at bay. Ryan Duggan at midfield will need to work hard to get the better of either Noonan or Johnstone and this will be a crucial area for Maghera where their half forward line, and half backs, will need to be much sharper on breaking ball than was the case in the quarter-final. Gerard Bradley was the Maghera match winner in that game but can expect much closer attention from the Colman’s defence and St Patrick’s will need a much greater return from players like Peter Cassidy, Neil McNicholl and Paul Gunning if they hope to progress.

Both of the schools have a tremendous rivalry in this competition and each will be keen to come out on top in this game as St Colman’s aim for their third MacRory Cup final in a row while Maghera will want to return to the top table for the first time since 2003. The hardest working team and the team which displays the greatest level of team work will surely triumph on Friday – at the minute that vote would go to St Colman’s Newry.