St. Paul’s odyssey to continued

March 11, 2013

St Paul’s, Bessbrook football odyssey has already brought them plenty of glory over the last number of years but the crowning moment arrives next Monday March 18 at 1-15 pm at the Athletic Grounds, when they contest their first ever Danske Bank MacRory Cup final.

St Paul’s are unbeaten from they entered the blue riband event of Ulster Collleges’ football as MacLarnon and All-Ireland B champion’s last year, and with a MacCormack Cup league title under their belts they will not fear fellow finalists and favourites for the title St Patrick’s, Maghera. Last year’s beaten finalists Maghera have won the title on 12 occasions with their last success a decade ago in 2003.

St Paul’s began life with the big boys in daunting fashion as they faced the current holders and Hogan Cup finalists St Michael’s, Enniskillen. The new kids on the block sent out a resounding message to all in sundry that there were not in this competition to make up the numbers. The holders were put to the sword in very impressive fashion 3-14 to 1-3 and the Bessbrook boys remained unbeaten in their group with wins over St McCartan’s, Monaghan 2-13 to 2-11 and a draw with Omagh CBS 1-12 to 2-9 which saw them top their group and qualify for the knock-out quarter final stage of the competition.

The reward for St Paul’s topping their group with by a place in the league final with the McCORMICK Cup up for grabs. The opponents in the November 30 floodlit  final at Emmyvale were strong favourites St Patrick’s College, Maghera, who also topped their MacRory group. First half goals from Conor Nugent and Caolan McCullough helped the underdogs lead 2-3 to 0-5 at the short whistle. A man down to a second yellow Maghera rattled off 4 unanswered points to draw level. The lead changed hands twice and was still level some 2 minutes into added on time when the Derry side took a one point lead. True to their beliefs and grafting till the final whistle St Paul’s wrestled victory from the jaws of defeat as Fionnan Burns rifled home the match winning goal 3-5 to 0-12.


In the who’s who of MacRory cup football little St Paul’s were expected to leave their pre-Christmas form behind them as the competition reached the knock-out stages with the draw for the quarter finals. A local derby would await the group winners as they faced Newry rivals Abbey CBS.  In a very boisterous electric carnival atmosphere at Pairc Esler it was captain Ciaran O Hanlon who gave his dominant team an interval lead of 1-3 to 0-3 by producing all their scores as his teams wastefulness saw then tot up 8 wides. Abbey took control of the third quarter cutting the deficit to the minimum but a reduction in numbers via a second yellow allowed the Bessbrook boys rattle over 5 unanswered points to run out 1-9 to 0-7 winners.

Maghera avenged last year’s final loss by ousting the holders St Michaels with 2 points in the last quarter from Danny Tallon securing a 0-7 to 0-5 victory. The semi-final draw pitted St Pat’s with record MacRory Cup winners St Colman’s, Newry. A very late equaliser from Peter Cassidy gave Maghera a replay 0-14 to 1-11. The replay was every bit as good as the drawn match. A third minute Danny Tallon goal gave Maghera the edge all through as they held on for a place in the final 1-10 to 0-11.

St Paul’s spies would have been expecting a semi tilt with St Patrick’s Dungannon but Ferghal McMahon converted a penalty with the last kick of the game to give Monaghan side St Macartans a dramatic 2-9 to 2-8 win and the right to face St Paul’s for a place in the final. Bessbrook blasted out of the blocks to blitz Macartans with an unanswered 1-7 in the opening22 minutes at the Athletic Grounds. McMahon again from the penalty spot and then he followed up with 3 points to leave the semi delicately poised at 1-7 to 1-3 at half-time. A second burst of 1-3 early in the second half allowed St Paul’s cruise to the final at their first attempt. The only blemish was a straight red card picked up by defender Conor Boyle who will now miss the final.


The St Paul’s meteoric rise in the football ranks has not just arrived overnight. School management and current team managers John Rafferty and Martin O’Rourke have put in the hours nurturing these talented youngsters into a fine unit. While every team has its special players it is the team ethic which has brought St Paul’s such success. They work very hard for each other with a solid defence in which colleges All-Star Jamie Cosgrove has excelled in a solid full back line alongside Peter Campbell and Aaron McKay. In front of them Gregory McCabe has been a colossus at number 6 while half backs Daniel Nugent and Conor Boyle linked well with the attack. Boyle will be missed but Kyle Mallon, Mark McCabe, Peter Hughes, Conor Sloan or whoever is called in will not be found wanting.  Forkhill goalkeeper Sean McDonnell is a very solid dependable last line of defence and has pulled off many fine saves over the course of the campaign.

The industry and no mean football ability of midfielders Blaine Malone and Eoghan Burns cannot be understated. They are non -stop from first to last whistle covering huge tracts of ground helping out in attack and defence. The duo  have scored a massive 2-20 between them which is a very big added bonus. As we move into the forwards goal threat immediately springs to mind. Berssbrook have rattled the onion bag 11 times in their six matches this year. Caolan McCullough is the lad with” the goalden touch” as the Carrickcruppen player has scored 5 of his teams goal tally to date, with 5 different players accounting for the other 6. There is no doubt but Connaire Mackin, Conor Nugent, Cormac Toner and Fionnan Burns are all able to take their scores but the real inspiration up front is Ciaran O’Hanlon who is top scorer with 1-17 to his name. The Captains general play and drive has spurred his team as he leads by example.

Maghera do not carry the favourites tag for nothing. Very strong through the  middle boosted by All-Stars Conor Carville at number 6, midfielder James Kearney and full forward Stephen O’Hara they also have top scorer Gerald Bradley 1-20 and Danny Tallon 1-13 in their ranks.

St Paul’s will need to re-produce their Mccormick cup defensive heroics in which they held this formidable Maghera unit goaless and produced 3 green flags of their own. Having been brought up and weaned on success and appearing in big finals the occasion should not be a deterrent to the competition minnows. By afternoon of March 18 the fairytale rise of the St Paul’s Bessbrook will have scaled the height by becoming the 14Th. School to get their name on this most coveted colleges prize.


St Paul’s Bessbrook

St Paul’s Bessbrook  P 6 W 5 D 1 L 0 FOR 11-69 AGN 7 – 42

St Paul’s Bessbrook 2-12 St Macartan’s Monaghan 1-6

St Paul’s Bessbrook 1-9 Abbey CBS 0-7

St Paul’s Bessbrook 2-9 St Colman’s Newry 1-6

St Paul’s Bessbrook 3-14 St Michael’s Enniskillen 1-3

St Paul’s Bessbrook 2-13 St Macartan’s Monaghan 2-11

St Paul’s Bessbrook 1-12 Omagh CBS 2-9

SCORERS- Ciaran O’Hanlon (1-17), Eoghan Burns (2-13), Caolan McCullough (5-3), Connaire Mackin (1-8), Conor Nugent (1-6), Blaine Malone (0-7), Cormac Toner (0-5), Gregory McCabe (1-1), Aaron McKay (0-3), Oisin Murphy (0-3), Daniel Nugent (0-1), Micheal McNamee (0-1), Curtis O’Hare (0-1)

St Patrick’s Maghera

St Patrick’s Maghera P 7 W 5 D 2 L 0 FOR 5-87 AGN 5-55

St Patrick’s Maghera 1-10 St Colmans 0-11

St Patrick’s Maghera 0-14 St Colman’s Newry 1-11

St Patrick’s Maghera 0-7 St Michael’s Enniskillen 0-5

St Patrick’s Maghera 1-18 Abbey CBS 1-6

St Patrick’s Maghera 0-8, St Mary’s Magherafelt 1-5

St Patrick’s Maghera 2-12 St Patrick’s Dungannon 2-9

St Patrick’s Maghera 1-18 St Patrick’s Armagh 0-8

SCORERS-Gerald Bradley (1-20), Stephen O’Hara (1-17), Danny Tallon (1-13), Conor Convery (0-11), Neil McNicholl (1-4), Ruairí McElwee (1-3), Peter Cassidy (0-4), James Kearney (0-3), Paul McAtamney (0-3), Niall Toner (0-2),Padraig Cassidy (0-2), Cathal Mulholland (0-2), Cormac Murphy (0-1), Cormac O’Doherty (0-1), Niall Gorman (0-1)