MacRory Cup Final, 18th March 2016
[Derry Post, Tuesday 22nd March 2016]
St. Patrick's Maghera 5-07 St. Paul's Bessbrook 1-09

St. Patrick's Maghera

St. Pat's Maghera won their 15th MacRory Cup and in some style, hammering St. Paul's Bessbrook by ten points at a sun-kissed Athletic Grounds in Armagh.

Shane McGuigan top scored, as usual, with a match-winning 2-4 from play, while Francis Kearney, Paddy Quigg and Conal Darragh all weighed in with goals.

It's hard to think how this game could have gone any better for the south Derry school. To call it fairytale stuff would certainly not be stretching the point.

Blue skies, still air, relentless sunshine. The Athletic Grounds heaving with two sets of fans with hope in their hearts, ferried to the game in as many as 50 coaches. Those buses meandered their way from the foot of the Glenshane from early in the morning, and had to negotiate their path to the game through a number of different St Patrick's Day parades in Desertmartin and Moneymore. It must have felt like a victory parade even before a ball was thrown-in.

And the noise - deafening. When Conor Glass led his men out onto the perfectly manicured pitch the St Pat's fans nearly took the roof off the stadium with the roar that went out. Their mantra "Ooh, 'ahh, Maghera. Ooh, aah, Maghera!" never cooled. This was their day too, and they roared their titans onto the pitch from start to the finish line.

Ultimate victory was underpinned by a, for once, blistering start. When captain and talisman Glass leapt high to win the first throw-in, and played an early accurate ball to Shane McGuigan to point from a tight angle, it was patently clear that St Pat's were determined to grab this game by the scruff of the neck.

St Paul's were like rabbits caught in the glare of the Armagh sunshine and the white heat that their opponents brought to battle. Shane McGuigan was the rabbit poacher-in-chief. Somebody in the press room remarked "McGuigan's being tightly marked" - he still his right foot was anywhere near as good as his left he'd have scored plenty more.

McGuigan's first goal set the tone for the day. Strike partner Francis Kearney - big, powerful and highly skilled, caught a ball, drew the 'keeper and two defenders to him before deftly off-loading to McGuigan to score an easy goal.

The Slaughtneil man's second goal gave his side a commanding 2-02 to no score lead as early as the 7th minute.

Bessbrook, God help them, were badly shook. Points from Niall Magennis and captain Jarlath Og Burns finally opened their account in the 8th and 9th minute. But it was only a temporary reprieve from the on-slaught. Francis Kearney drilled home Maghera's third goal, care of an assist by brother Patrick in the 11th minute. The Swatragh striker turned his man sharply before drilling low, expertly, past the keeper.

By the 18th minute it was 4-02 to 0-03 to St Pat's after 16-year-old Paddy Quigg also found the back of the Bessbrook net.

St Paul's fired back tamely with two more points, but St Pat's would give Paul Hughes the easiest half-time team talk of his long and distinguished career and finished the half strongly.

Oisin McWilliams tapped over from close range after a thundering run from midfielder Jack Doherty, then star man McGuigan made it 4-04 to five points at the break.

Half-time 4-04 to 0-05

Bessbrook, to their eternal credit, rallied early and valiantly after the restart. Their key player Shea Loye scored a goal and a point to reduce their deficit to six points. St Pat's were guilty of playing some ragged football during this short phase in the game. Shots and passes were well below the high benchmark they had set in the opening 30 minutes.

A Herculean run from Oisln McWilliams in the 46th minute, with Bessbrook defenders hanging off him, ended with a nerve-settling point for Maghera.

But again Bessbrook refused to lie down. They hit back with two more points and drove forward hunting goals. Man of the match in the semi-final, Sean Cassidy, came to Pat's rescue when he got a big right paw to a Ryan McSherry thunderbolt, in the 50th minute. The door was firmly shut.

Conor Glass retreated to full-back to shore up any last ditch Bessbrook attacks, and, while clearly bothered by a problem with his right shoulder, plucked one magnificent high ball form the skies.

Shane McGuigan completed his 2-04 in the 53rd minute, but Pat's had one last treat for their delirious fans. Conail Darragh was fouled in the box as he bore down on goal in the 60th minute.

The Glen man coolly converted the resulting penalty to confirm what everybody had known since the first half - St Pat's Maghera were the 2016 MacRory Cup winners.

These are the days of their lives.



St. Matthew's Drumsurn players Dara Rafferty, Michael Mullan and Tiarnán McHugh

St Patrick's Maghera : Sean Cassidy, Odhran McKeever, Patrick Turner, Keelan Feeney, Paddy McCormack, Shea Downey, Conor McAllister, Conor Glass, Jack Doherty, Patrick Kearney, Paddy Quigg (1-0), Oisin McWilliams (0-2), Conall Darragh (1-0), Shane McGuigan (2-4), Francis Kearney (1-1)

Subs : Tiarnan Walsh for P Quigg (52), Dara McPeake for 0 McKeever (53), Michael Mullan for 0 McWilliams (57), Conor Mulholland for C McAllister (58), Feargal Higgins for P Kearney (60)