By Niall Gartland
ST Patrick’s Downpatrick are set to go boldly where they’ve gone before – the final of the Mageean Cup competition.
The Downpatrick school – commonly referred to as Red High – are set to take on St Patrick’s Maghera in Friday night in the showpiece final in Ulster Schools’ hurling.
We caught up with their manager Darren Swail before the big game, who explained that they’ve been pinning on their hopes on this current crop for quite some time.
“This is a side we’ve been waiting on for a while, they’re a good side. They won the ‘B’ competition in first and second year, and they’ve been played at ‘A’ level since.
“My plan was to play in the Mageean Cup last year, but it was written off. The idea was we’d get a bit of experience and then hit the ground this year, and that’s what’s happened.
“We actually beat St Pat’s Maghera in our first group stage match but they’d no real experience of playing us at that point, we caught them on the hop a bit.”
Red High qualified for the final with a stunning last-gasp victory over St Louis Ballymena at the Dub.
Their star man that day was
Tom McGrattan, who scored 1-9 in total.
He’s the son of Down’s only hurling All-Star, Gerard, but they have plenty of talented players in the ranks – and not just from strongholds like Portaferry and Ballygalget.
“There is a big tradition of hurling in the school but we just haven’t had the strength to compete at ‘A’ grade until this year.
“Tom was the captain of the Down u-17 side that beat Meath in the All-Ireland final last year, and probably about nine starters that day are on our Mageean Cup squad.
“We’ve a large number of Portaferry guys on the squad this year, probably about a dozen out of 30 players.
“We also have five or six from Ballygalget, and a couple from Ballycran, but we also have lads from Liatroim, a lad from Carryduff, and a couple from football clubs who still play hurling in school.”
Past pupils of the school include brilliant hurlers like former Down captain Paul Coulter, Daithi Sands, Eoghan Sands, Danny Toner (who’s helping coach the squad), Caolan Taggart, Oisin McManus and TIm Prenter.
Time will tell, but something says a good crop from this current team are future Down senior stars as well.