Red High are looking good

Red High are looking good

13 March 2019

THE hand of sporting history is reaching out to the Gaelic footballers of St Patrick’s Grammar School, Downpatrick.

But they have it all to do next Monday if they are to lift the Danske Bank Ulster Colleges’ MacLarnon Cup for the fifth time.

Standing in their way at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh are a star-studded Cathair Dhoire outfit — an amalgamation side from four top Derry schools.

With St Patrick’s Grammar School celebrating its 85th anniversary this year, there would be no better way to mark the occasion than lifting the coveted trophy, which was last won by the school in 2001.

That year Loughinisland’s Conor O’Toole led his Red High band of brothers to a famous win over St Columb’s, from Derry — one of the schools now making up the Cathair Dhoire outfit.

The team was backboned by Downpatrick’s Peter Turley and Loughinisland’s Dan Gordon, two players who went on to play senior football for Down for many years. Bryansford’s Chris Brannigan was the ‘go to’ man for vital scores and Carryduff’s Ronan Lawlor won a Colleges All-Star award that year.

Previous wins in the competition came in 1969, 1977 and 1990 with the teams of ‘77 and ‘90 going on to win the All Ireland Colleges’ B final.

Cathair Dhoire may not have the same sort of identity or history as the Red High, but they will still be a tough nut to crack. 

The Red High’s campaign didn’t start that well and they lost their opening group game 2-9 to 1-11 when Our and Lady and St Patrick’s, Knock, edged past them by the narrowest of margins.

They picked up a bit of momentum following a comprehensive 5-13 to 1-6 victory over St Patrick’s, Keady. 

This was followed up by a 3-13 to 2-9 win over St Louis’, Ballymena, before a 2-14 to 1-15 extra-time victory against St Malachy’s, Castlewellan, in the quarter-finals. 

St Louis’, Ballymena, were their semi-final opponents, but they were no match for the Red High flair and went down 2-15 to 0-11.

Meanwhile, Cathair Dhoire enjoyed wins over Our Lady’s, Castleblaney, Our Lady’s and St Patrick’s, Knock, and Inis Eoghan, Donegal, on their way to the final. In addition, the St Columb’s players in the squad were also involved with their school’s senior team that won this season’s Markey Cup.

The Derry side are blessed with a plethora of talented players, none more so than Ben McCarron, a highly-rated forward who played for his county in this year’s McKenna Cup.

St Patrick’s will look to their defensive markers, Eoin Rooney and Jack Harbinson, while skipper Ronan Murphy, Ciaran Watson and Peter McMullan will hope to turn defence into attack.

Murphy is really looking forward to the final and believes that his team-mates have all the hard yards done in training.

“We are really looking forward to the final. This is one of the reasons we all play the game. It makes all the hard work and effort worthwhile,” he said.

“Preparations are going well. I can’t fault the lads, everyone is putting in a shift and getting out to training. Hopefully, all the hard work will pay off.

“We don’t really know much about Cathair Dhiore as all year we have just concentrated on our game and what we need to do. They obviously have good players to get this far with a few lads who have won Ulster Colleges All Star awards and played senior football for Derry, so, we know they are pretty decent.

He continued: ”Getting to the final has created a real buzz and it’s infectious. Everyone in the school is looking forward to it. The school is covered in maroon and gold and it’s just class as it sends good vibes all around the place.

“Former players and coaches have been wishing us well and it has been great to see them involved as the Red High has a huge history and tradition in Ulster Colleges’ football.”

St Patrick’s have potential match winners all over the park and in Tim Prenter — a regular starter in the county’s senior hurling team — Ruairi O’Hare, Brandon Boyd, Tom Smyth and Niall Laverty they have players capable of winning games on their own.

Red High coach Declan Morgan believes that his charges have what it takes to go all the way this year.

“We have been training exceptionally hard, but the boys enjoy the work and there is a great camaraderie in the squad,” he said.

“There is pace and mobility all over the pitch and we have defenders that can negate Cathair Dhoire’s scoring threat. Our lads all know the job they have to do. We have invested a lot in this squad and they have responded brilliantly.

“However, there is no guarantee in football and know we have a lot to do to get our hands on the cup,” he added.

“We haven’t mentioned the fact that we are already through to the All-Ireland Colleges’ B semi-finals, regardless of Monday’s outcome, as amalgamated schools are unable to compete in that competition.

“The boys are focused totally on winning on Monday and they will not be taking their eye off the ball.”

The final is still a long way off for several players who face a weekend of action in other sports.

“We can’t wrap up the boys in cotton wool, but I will be on the phone on Saturday night to several of the players to ensure they haven’t picked up any injuries,” Mr Morgan said.

“However, we have a 33 strong panel and they have all bought into the team ethos and our horses for courses policy.

“The lads are so looking forward to the final and are fully aware of the school’s history in the competition.”

He added: ”It’s been a while since the MacLarnon Cup was in Downpatrick, but I am convinced this squad can bridge that gap and bring the trophy back to the Red High for the first time in 18 years.”