Cumann Lúthchleas Gael Uladh

Memories of drought driving renewed MacRory glory for St Patrick’s, Maghera

November 9th, 2016

THE glory days are back making their mark around the storied halls of St Patrick’s, Maghera, but they will well remember the decade when they were so sorely missed.

As a player, Dermot McNicholl played in a record five consecutive MacRory Cup finals, winning four of them between 1980 and ’84. That was during a run of appearing in 12 out of 13 finals under Adrian McGuckin, and they remained a constant fixture in the late 1980s and mid-‘90s.

When Derry’s All-Ireland minor winning team of 2002 went on to backbone the return of the famous trophy at the giddy expense of local rivals St Mary’s, Magherafelt in ’03, little did they imagine it would mark the start of a barren spell. Between that afternoon and their defeat by St Michael’s, Enniskillen nine years later, there was to be no final for the blue, white and black.

Little wonder, then, that they are determined to savour the current run. Since that 2012 decider, they’ve gone on to win three of the last four MacRory Cups, and appeared in the Hogan Cup final on each occasion.

Despite winning just the first of them, those were afternoons to be savoured after a decade without winning a MacRory. After a 10-year break of his own, McNicholl is now back at the helm along with joint-manager Martin Quinn.

“Listen, we understand that that was a long, long famine,” said McNicholl.

“Every school goes through their cycle. Colman’s had a long famine before they won, they had 12 years before their back-to-back Hogans. Those things happen.

“Twelve years for them, and 10 years for us, was a long stretch. The work the clubs are putting in, we’re getting the finished articles coming through now. That’s a big help for us. We’ve been in four finals the last five years and we’ve been blessed with the quality of players coming through from the clubs.”

As further evidence of that, between 2007 and ’15, Derry had a representative in seven of the eight Ulster minor club tournament finals at St  Paul’s.

That allowed Paul Hughes and Colum Lavery to bring St Patrick’s back to the pinnacle of colleges football. Their tenure helped reestablish the reputation as a feared opponent.

McNicholl and Quinn were in the background through their reign and indeed helped bring those successful teams through. The pair have been working with the school’s Brock and Rannafast Cup teams since 2008.

“We had a few successes the last few years. Most of those MacRory teams came past us and generally they’d been successful at Brock and Rannafast level, to bring them through,” said Quinn, who has also had a hand in producing the successful current crop at his club, Cargin.

He has been coaching teams since he joined the school in 2000, and this will be his first time in charge of the school’s senior outfit. All but four of the team that played in April’s Hogan Cup final defeat by St. Brendan’s Killarney have passed on.

Conor Glass, Jack Doherty, Patrick and Francis Kearney, Shea Downey and Shane McGuigan had been mainstays of a couple of successful campaigns but what McNicholl and Quinn are inheriting is effectively a brand new team.

Odhrán McKeever, Paddy McCormick, Oisín McWilliams and Paddy Quigg are the quartet who remain. Swatragh youngster McWilliams was starting on the team as a fifth year and along with his twin brother Lorcan and another set of twins, Dungiven pair Séamus and Feargal Higgins, they will carry a chunk of the responsibility.

With Tiarnan Walsh and Larry Kielt – the youngest sibling of Kilrea’s Charlie and James, and son of former Maghera MacRory manager Liam –  they will be hoping to compete after Christmas.

Their current lower sixth crop came through their colleges careers unbeaten until the Rannafast semi-final last year, when they were turned over by Patrician, Carrickmacross.

“Patrician College, last year, beat us in the Rannafast semi-final and they were good for their win,” says Dermot McNicholl.

“This year’s competition is very, very open. St Colman’s are very strong, Omagh are very strong, St Ronan’s have a team full of power and pace.

“Carrickmacross are coming up, Bessbrook are still there, Monaghan won the Rannafast two years ago; St Pat’s, Cavan; St Mary’s, Magherafelt are blessed with an inter-county forward line. It’s an even competition. We’re hoping to be as competitive as we possibly can.”

Their campaign begins in Ahoghill on Wednesday afternoon against St Mary’s CBGS, Belfast. That they are in the group of four teams along with St Michael’s, Enniskillen and St Patrick’s, Armagh gives them and their fellow Mageean Cup competitors St Mary’s some breathing space in terms of fixtures.

Years in that decade-long famine, they didn’t make it past Christmas. Amid these glory days, St Pat’s will call on the memory of those barren times to keep driving them forward.

Cahair O’Kane

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