St Louis Ballymena’s prize for preparation

By Michael McMullan

ST LOUIS won their third Mageean Cup title on Friday night with a hard-fought victory over St Killian’s, Garron Tower thanks to goals from joint captains Rónán McCollum and Aodhán McGarry.

They took time to look back at the campaign and how defeat in 2021 drove them on to success 12 months later.

Michael McMullan: I’m sure it was some feeling on Friday night. You boys were probably too young to remember 2015. Aodhán, that was your Ryan’s age group back then…

Aodhán McGarry: Yeah, me and Rónán were both in Primary Seven. All I remember is ‘Coby’s’ (Conal Cunning) goal and them waltzing it from there. Ours was different, we had to wait until the last six minutes before we got our breakaway.

M McM: Rónán, your mother (Cathy) teaches in the school, so I’m sure you were the Dub that night too.

Rónán McCollum: I was there with her and my wee brother. It was a great experience, I remember it like it was yesterday.

M McM: What was the buzz like now with your own team?

A McG: The bond between us, the older ones and the younger boys,t has just been great. Even the fifth years are some of our best friends at the minute; we are having lethal craic with them.

M McM: Hurling was good to your age group in school. You have a couple of titles on the way up. I remember seeing your team come up against St Patrick’s, Maghera in a Gallagher final.

R McC: That was in third year.

A McG: We have always been completive up through the age groups. We have always been an Ulster final at our age.

R McC: We on the first year competition. We were beat by Garron Tower in second year in the McNamee Cup and St Pat’s (Maghera) beat us in third year and in fourth year (Leonard Cup) we beat St Pat’s. Then Covid happened and we missed out on fifth year.

M McM: The Mageean is always the big one I suppose, from when you came into the school.

A McG: Last year we were so close and we almost threw it away ourselves. We were only beaten by three points by Red High (St Patrick’s Downpatrick – the eventual winners) last year. We had to make this year count, this was always the year we were going to target the Mageean and we were going to set out to win.

R McC: We always knew we were strong over the years, but this year our preparation was very good. We started preparing last year for it, almost right away. When we got beat last year, we went straight in and focused on this year. We started out with gym programmes and straight into training with meetings and all that was involved.

M McM: You literally prepared for two years.

A McG: Even Paul Boyle staying for another year helped us, his training sessions and coming up from uni to help coach. His structured training sessions helped us prepare for this year.

M McM: Who all is involved?

A McG: Mr (Conor) Gillan would be the main manager and Mr (Colm) Morgan would be his assistant manager. Paul Boyle would be the special trainer, Mr (Sean) Cassidy would be the defensivegoalkeeping coach and Mr (Paddy) McAleer would have been doing the athletic development.

He had us running and in for gym sessions in the mornings. That happened from September right through.

M McM: That took plenty of dedication.

A McG: It did, but I remember one morning there were only three boys at it.

M McM: I take it the riot act was needed.

A McG: That was the last time that happened and it was just before our first Maghera game.

M McM: A turning point in the season?

R McC: 100 per cent, that was the turning point. We knew we couldn’t get away without everyone getting out.

A McG: There was also a training session at the start of September when everybody just went hell for leather at it, where we gelled as a team.

M McM: Is that one of those sessions when the referee just swallows the whistle?

A McG: Yeah, they said there would be no frees and I think that’s when the intensity went through the roof.

R McC: I think another turning point was our trip down to Dublin. We played a Dublin team and it was a day out for everyone and it brought us closer as a group.

A McG: We won handy, but it was the bonding experience. We had cards and were playing away at the back of the bus. That day was what brought us closer together to fight it out in the last 20 minutes against Garron Tower.

M McM: As you say, the 2015 final was comfortable. This was different. What was it like to play in?

A McG: It was unreal, but it passes you by so quickly.

R McC: The atmosphere was unbelievable and there were so many people at it. Anytime anything happened there were people screaming and banging at the barriers.

It is a small pitch compared to the ones we are used to playing on, but it kind of suited us as well.

A McG: It maybe played in their favour at the start. They probably dominated the first 40 minutes and we couldn’t get into it.

His (Rónán’s) goal gave us a lease of life and we were going to stick in this game.

They were probably the better team in the first half, but we came in level, so we got our first wind there.

M McM: Then the second goal made the difference I take it.

R McC: It made the difference because we didn’t play well up to that.

M McM: From the big picture, sport seems to be thriving in the school?

R McC: It has gone very professional.

A McG: Since we came into the school, we had a small gym in the sports hall and nobody used it until we got it renovated.

R McC: There are loads of people using it. Me and Aodhán would during our lunchtimes and get a quick 30 minutes until we’d go back to class.

A McG: The 4G (pitch) this year has helped.

R McC: We were able to train pretty much all year. When it gets darker, we can put on the lights and stay on for longer to train every night of the week.

M McM: Do you know anything about the All-Ireland series yet?

A McG: We haven’t met up as a group since Friday night, but I’m sure we’ll get down to work

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