By Alan Rodgers
THOSE young players of more than 60 years ago travelled by train as they led the way for Omagh CBS in a derby clash which represented the high-point of the school’s initial involvement in the MacRory Cup.
Many of the most talented young footballers from the Red Hand County were on duty one day in November 1956. Some lived just yards from each other, which added an extra competitive ingredient to the meeting of Omagh CBS and St Patrick’s, Armagh.
Omagh entered the MacRory Cup for the first time in 1947. A decade later, they were finally finding their footings. The 1956-57 team progressed from the group stages, and included Seamus ‘Snowball’ Quinn of Omagh, Frank Rodgers and Dessie and Seamus McMahon of Beragh, Brendan Barrett of Tattysallagh and the Carrickmore pairing of Jimmy Treacy and Paddy Grugan.
Standing against them was an Armagh side that included Owen Kerr, Pat John Rafferty and Michael Martin from Carrickmore and Paddy Hughes of Dungannon. Adding a further layer of intrigue was the fact that Ollie Slane of Beragh was the referee.
Frank Rodgers lined out at full-back for Omagh on that occasion. He remembers how close they had come to reaching the semi-final.
“Donal Donnelly had become involved with Br Lawrence Ennis and there was some very good training that year. It was probably as good as we could have got,” he said.
“One night Donal Donnelly organised a training match against a St Enda’s select, which included county players like Harry Scully, Jackie Taggart and Paddy Corey. It was a good competitive match.
“That team of 1956 could have made the breakthrough. I remember the match we played in the quarter-final against Armagh. They had a number of players from Carrickmore and a lot from Tyrone who went there at that time.
“They had a star-studded team. I remember marking a player called Tom Savage. He got away from me and scored a goal and I wasn’t too pleased.”
That game finished on a final score of 5-5 to 3-5 for Armagh, who had led by seven points at half time. The Ulster Herald report noted how Seamus McMahon had passed to ‘Snowball’ Quinn for one of the Omagh goals.
It was to be another decade before Omagh again really competed in the McRory Cup. In both 1957-58 and 1958-59 they failed to impress, with Rodgers captaining the team in the later year.
He remembers how the same emphasis wasn’t put on football progress at that time.
“The improvement didn’t really continue into the early sixties. The records show that the Newry colleges – St Colman’s and the Abbey – and St Patrick’s, Armagh were the dominant teams,” he recalls.
“There was one time I remember us having a match on the Saturday. I had the flu’ all week and was off school, but managed to recover well enough to turn up for the game. Br WO Murphy met me and gave out to me about missing school. He didn’t recognise that I thought it was important to attend for the game.
“I’ve good memories of that one year in 1956. But then the other two seasons were mostly filled with heavy defeats and it was a case of keeping the score down. St Michael’s were the only team I think that we managed to beat.
“We went to places like St Pat’s in Cavan, St Macartan’s in Monaghan and Armagh. You were always well beaten.”
In later years, Larry Sheerin won two county medals with his native Carrickmore. He played on the 1958/59 team and remembers those trips to venues across Ulster.
“My main memory is of getting stuffed in the MacRory Cup. We travelled to St Columb’s in Derry, Letterkenny and other places as well. I don’t remember heading east on too many occasions,” he said.
“What I remember more than the games is travelling on the railway from Strabane to Letterkenny and to Derry. We were playing at Celtic Park and then walked from the train station to the pitch to play the game.
“Seamus ‘Snowball’ Quinn was a real star for us at that time. He was a great player. I also remember going to play a match on a Saturday morning in 1956 and hearing on the way that Ronnie Delaney had won gold at the Olympics.
“The football wasn’t considered important at that time. We played at the CBS Park, but there wasn’t much interest. The Brothers were fully focused on getting people through academically. It was all about getting through the exams.”
Now, in 2023, the current generation of players have the best possible preparations as they bid to win the title again. As they line out at Healy Park for the big final, they will carry with them the best wishes of past generations of Omagh CBS stars who made their impact in a slightly less glamorous era.