By Michael McMullan
RATHMORE Grammar School are in their second season back in the MacLarnon Cup and last year was the reality check needed to focus the mind, insists former Antrim defender Gearóid Adams.
He leads up a coaching team that includes Donal McKernan, Paul Collins and Conor Ewing who are finalising their preparations for Friday’s showdown with St Joseph’s, Donaghmore in Rathmore’s first final since their only appearance in the 2007 decider.
Sitting in a school’s gym, overlooking their playing fields, there a sense of final day fever building in the school and Adams has been enthused by increased emphasis on GAA in the school.
“It was a complete reality check,” Adams said of their MacLarnon campaign 12 months ago didn’t grow out of the group stages.
“There are a lot of GAA families in the school that have moved to Belfast and they talk about the MacRory Cup and us getting up to MacLarnon (level).”
Moving up was always on the radar for Adams and the players began to realise the “massive step up” from playing at Grade C level.
There was more required than “a few weeks” of preparation and Adams pays tribute to the input of the clubs.
“The main club is St Brigid’s, they have done a lot of work. They’ve won u-15, u-17, u-19 and everything at juvenile level.
“We also have Glenavy, where Fiontán (O’Boyle) our captain comes from, where Mick Morgan comes from.
“Then we have a mix of clubs from West Belfast, O’Donnell’s, Davitt’s, St Paul’s, Lamh Dhearg, Sarsfields…that mix and range of clubs involved and some really good footballers among them.”
They face a Donaghmore side who have had an emphatic path to Friday’s final, but Rathmore are both happy and accustomed to the underdogs’ tag.
“We have had a bit of craic about it,” Adams said with the smile. “Every preview in the papers before every match, we were getting beat so obviously that’s a good level of motivation for us.
“To win our match in the semi-final against a very good team (Milford) shows we are not a bad team either.”
Rathmore found themselves 1-6 to 0-1 in arrears in their first group game with St Louis, Ballymena before finishing with a more creditable five-point defeat before their second game with St Patrick’s, Downpatrick.
“The Red High (Downpatrick) game was the make or break. If we lost that, then we could’ve been out,” he said.
Beyond Friday’s final, Adams – Antrim’s Director of Football – is hopeful the squad will help the progression of football in the county.
“Sometimes you can get carried away, but I have told these boys that five or six of them will go on to have very good careers and can go on an play for Antrim,” he said.
“A lot of these boys are the best players in their clubs. Some of them are very young and went into senior football. Fiontán O’Boyle got player of the year in Glenavy, for a 17- or 18-year-old, that’s a massive achievement and as an Antrim man, it is good to see that.”