St Louis Kilkeel
2005: Omagh CBS 2-7 St Louis 0-13
2005 replay: Omagh 2-9 St Louis 0-11
2006 Abbey: CBS 2-4 St Louis 0-9
St Louis Kilkeel appeared in back-to-back MacRory finals in the mid-noughties and, like Bessbrook eight years later, winning the MacLarnon was a catylist.
Steven McVeigh was involved in those teams, initially along the line with Cathal Murray and then for 2006 with Niall McAleenan, after Cathal switched to his present job in St Colman’s Newry.
“St Louis was basically a B competition school but hadn’t won a lot until the start of the millennium and then we won a Corn Cholmchille, Corn Loch an Iúir and three Treanor Cups. Cathal opted to move them up a grade for the Rannafast Cup and they reached the semi-finals. So things were starting to happen.
“Around that time as well, our main feeder clubs, Bryansford, An Ríocht and Rostrevor, were all doing well in under-age.
“In fact we won the MacLarnon and then the All-Ireland in 2004 with a very young team – nearly all of them were available the following year and some for both MacRory campaigns.
“We reached a MacCormack final, but lost to Omagh. We thought that was a good sign at the time. We certainly were not star-struck, but getting a run at this new level helped re-inforce the confidence we had in ourselves.
“In hindsight though it was something that came back to bite us in the 2005 MacRory final. We met Omagh again and they were bouyed up from the MacCormack win and hit us hard early on.
“They got an early goal, a penalty, and were 1-5 to 0-4 ahead at half-time. Early in the second half they got a second goal to go six up.
“To our credit we fought back with six points in a row, but they moved ahead again with a point. We then had about four attacks to get the equaliser. James Colgan eventually fisted over.
“We had a superb second half and you are left thinking what might have been if we had played at the same level for the first half.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Omagh but our overall feeling after that game was disappointment. We had to chase the game and hadn’t performed to the level we could have. Even those last four attacks before the equaliser….”
The replay was back in Casement Park ten days later and got off to an explosive start with points from Joe Ireland and Martin Clarke followed by an Omagh goal from Stephen Donaghy – all inside the opening four minutes.
“It was score for score and level at half-time, but their goal midway through the second half left us with a bit much to do and they learned from the drawn game to shut us out in the last quarter.”
More than half the Kilkeel team got their revenge by beating Tyrone in the first round of the Ulster minor championship and Down went on to collect the All-Ireland minor tittle that September with five St Louis players starting the final against Mayo. Quite a few were still there for the 2006 MacRory campaign.
Again there was a narrow defeat in the MacCormack Cup final, this time to St Mary’s Magherafelt, but the surprise opponents for them in the MacRory decider were neighbours Abbey CBS, after three of the quarter-finals required replays.
“We needed a replay against St Colman’s, then beat Enniskillen in the semi-finals. In the final we just didn’t get the breaks. Abbey seemed to be getting them through the knock-out stages and they went on to win the Hogan.
“I was probably more annoyed with the first goal than the one that really floored us. We had pressed up the field and got turned over. Abbey attacked quickly with our half-back out of position and (Gerard) McGarvey goaled.
“We fought our way back into the game and led by two points going into stoppage time. Then a hit and hope ball into our area came off a block from John Fitzpatrick and young (Ciaran) Coffey was in the right place to get the goal.
“Yes for sure it was heart-breaking to get so close for a second year and not make it.
“Some great players emerged for us at that time. Everyone talks about Marty Clarke. He was an exceptional talent, but there was also James Colgan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Ireland, Luke Toner.
“We stuck at MacRory for another couple of years, but didn’t get as close again. Since then it has been a case of back to the MacLarnon and for a school of our size, that is probably our level.”
“Someone somewhere was going to benefit from the journey we had. The clubs and Down were the better for it. But it also enhanced their learning experience and all those lads have been successful in their career paths since,” Steven McVeigh.