St Patrick’s Dungannon v
St Patrick’s Armagh
Friday, Athletic Grounds, 7.30pm
The heartbreak of losing last year’s MacRory Cup final will undoubtedly be nagging at Dungannon player’s such as Mark McAleer, Aidan McGarrity and Colm Corrigan who were involved in the defeat to 2-9 to 2-8.
Dungannon were the last team to the win the title, before St Colman’s achieved their historic double. However, they may struggle to return to the decider following a lacklustre performance in the group stages.
Manager Ciaran Gourley predicted that his side would reach the quarter-finals stages, though he may not have expected to do so with one win and one draw.
They had to wait until St Pat’s Armagh beat St Macartan’s Monaghan, leaving the latter side winless, to secure their place in the last eight.Forwards such as Aidan McGarrity and Ruairi McGlone were on target in the group clash between the two sides, which Armagh won 0-11 to 0-8.
However, the management team of Gourley, Peter Herron and Kevin Collins would undoubtedly say that what happened in the group stages has little bearing on the knockout matches.
In saying that, it is Armagh who head into this weekend’s quarter-final with the favourites tag around their necks.
They have been the more impressive side through the ranks, although in what is undoubtedly the most open MacRory Cup competition for quite some time there has been no such thing as a dominant force, with the D’Alton, Corn na nOg, Brock and Rannafast Cup titles all going to different destinations.
It’s a local derby, and games between the pair are always extremely competitive. The experience of last year’s campaign, going all the way to the decider and pushing St Colman’s hard, will have added to the Academy’s belief that a breakthrough is in sight, however it looks more likely to be Armagh who will emerge from the MacRory Cup shadows to book their passage to the last four.
VERDICT: St Patrick’s ArmaghBT MacRory Cup quarter-final
St Michael’s Enniskillen v Omagh CBS
Saturday, Brewster Park, 11.00am
OMAGH CBS managed to top their group and go on to win the McCormick Cup before Christmas, yet such success does not mean the west Tyrone school should be installed as favourites to win the MacRory Cup.
No side in Group B won more than two games, and Kieran Donnelly, who manages the CBS team alongside Finnian Moriarty, was adamant that this year’s competition was very hard to call. Donnelly said that during the current panel’s six years playing Ulster Colleges football, a different team has won each respective competition.
With that in mind, Donnelly, who is part of Peter Canavan’s Fermanagh back room team, said that the group stages of this year provided more questions than answers
“It’s hard to know [what we learned from group stages] at this time. We wanted to win all our games so that we could try and get a winning habit,” he said.
“Sometimes some teams don’t put in their full effort, but we did because we wanted to be competitive. We always knew that it would be competitive because that has been the way it has been for the past few years. There isn’t a kick of a ball between the teams.”
Donnelly said that he rotated his squad during the group stages, yet despite a changeable panel, they managed to reach the McCormick Cup final – where the winner of Group A plays the winner of Group B. Omagh beat Enniskillen, a reverse of the 2008 McCormick Cup final result, which was also the same season that the Brothers won the MacRory Cup.
Donnelly and Moriarty managed that team, so they know what it takes to win, though they also know that victory this year may be an even greater challenge.
“We have taken this team from second year up, from D’Alton Cup. Usually in each year there are two or three strong teams, but not this year. Every year this group has been in Ulster Colleges a different school has won. The tells a tale.”
And what of St Michael’s, Enniskillen, Donnelly’s former alma mater?
“I know that they have some key players. I know the set up there, and they will have worked very hard and they will be ready. They are definitely a quality side.
“But our players know that it is a step up and hopefully they will do themselves justice.”
VERDICT: Omagh CBS
St Colman’s Newry v
St Mary’s CBS
Saturday, Casement Park, 11.00am
St Mary’s could not exactly have asked for a tougher or more daunting quarter-final task than to take on Hogan Cup winners and all-conquering St Colman’s.
The Newry outfit have been the standard-bearers in the Ulster Colleges premier competition over recent seasons, the benchmark for their competitors to attempt to match.
On their return to top-flight competition, St Mary’s will be left in no doubt where they are in terms of progression by the time the final whistle goes on Saturday morning.
To put things in perspective, St Colman’s are the bookies favourites to win not just this quarter-final, but the entire competition.
By contrast, St Mary’s are the rank outsiders, as far out as 25/1 with some bookmakers. Seventh-favourites St Pat’s Maghera are 15/2, underlining just how out of their depth some would say St Mary’s are.
However, this will be no Saturday morning stroll in the park for the defending champions. Many of the St Mary’s contingent are doubling up on O’Keefe Cup hurling commitments.
They’re strong, physical, and carry some excellent ball players in their side. They have also plenty of Casement Park experience behind them through their exploits both with their school and with their clubs, and the upturn in fortunes of feeder clubs from St Mary’s has paralleled the school’s re-emergence as a footballing force.
However, at this stage in the competition it’s strength in depth which really makes the difference between sides, and with the vast experience built up over the past two MacRory Cup campaigns, St Colman’s will be able to soak up what St Mary’s throw at them before pushing on for the win.
VERDICT: St Colman’s Newry