All-Ireland Schools B SHC semi-final
St Louis Ballymena v Coláiste Naomh Cormac Kilcormac
Sunday, 12.30pm, Darver
By Michael McMullan
IT will be 86 days on Sunday since the Mageean Cup left Belfast at the front of the St Louis, Ballymena team bus.
They enter the All-Ireland race this weekend against Offaly side Coláiste Naomh Cormac of Kilcormac bidding to follow the senior camogs and book their place in an All-Ireland final.
Current joint captains Ronan McCollum and Aodhan McGarry were still in primary school when St Louis were on the wrong end of All-Ireland final heartbreak on Easter Monday 2016.
McGarry’s older brother Ryan was part of the Ballymena side that lost out, after extra-time, to Tipperary’s Abbey CBS in Semple Stadium.
Standing in the Antrim school’s way of another chance to challenge for the Paddy Buggy Cup are a Naomh Cormac who won their Leinster title less than two weeks ago with seven players who were part of the Offaly Schools’ team who beat 55-time champions St Kieran’s, Kilkenny to land the Leinster A title.
“Between county u-17s and u-20s, in both hurling and football, the lads have been involved in competitive sport since they finished the Mageean Cup,” said St Louis manager Conor Gillan in relation to the lay-off.
“You add in the Forresters Cup (Year 12 hurling) and we had five
of the boys playing in that, so
we weren’t concerned about boys
not getting training or match practice.”
The squad travelled to Carlow for a training weekend during February where they also took in Tipperary’s National League win over Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.
Gillan has confirmed a clean bill of health from Tuesday’s Forresters quarter-final over St Patrick, Maghera and their Antrim u-20 contingent.
The St Louis panelists also got a run out in a challenge game last week against St Mary’s, Magherafelt, who are preparing for their All-Ireland series after their Casement Cup win.
“Since we have regrouped after Christmas, we have been on a training weekend and a challenge game with Antrim u-20s that was a good quality game that will hopefully stand to them.
“It (weekend away) was very beneficial in a hurling sense and with the camaraderie and it set the tone for the following month,” Gillan added.
Another five of this players were in action for Antrim u-20s against Down at the weekend – McCollum, McGarry, Jack McCloskey and the Patterson twins – Darragh and Pearce. McCloskey and the Pattersons were also the forefront of Loughgiel minors’ winning back-to-back Ulster titles.
“It makes the year shorter, we are now entering March the year is flying past,” Gillan added about the excitement around the school with the camogs also preparing for their All-Ireland showdown.
“It’s not to say we are not worrying about our classes. It adds a good buzz…there is not a day that goes by without people mentioning the Mageean or the upcoming All-Ireland semi-final. It makes the days fly past and it’s a good time for GAA in the school.”
Gillan and Tyrone man Colm Morgan were also involved with the 2015 Mageean winning team, with Antrim player Paul Boyle also on board this season.
“Paul has been in with us now for two years. He is with the Loughgiel seniors and now with Antrim. He would take the odd training session, so his ideas and his freshness have been great. He is keen and eager, a delight to have around the camp.”
A walk around the grounds of St Louis and the floodlight 4G pitch and ball wall jump out at you, a marker of the investment in sport in recent years.
Gillan is full of praise for all the staff involved in sport, who stay on to coach teams long after the final bell calls time on the afternoon.
“There is never a question asked,” he said of the commitment. “But that’s a small percentage. We have the players from September until May.
“When they are with their clubs for the proper GAA season, the clubs are coming to us. We are facilitating the training for them, but the bulk of the work is done in the clubs and the surrounding clubs.
“They are coming to us in great fettle. We have to be there to manage it, but the players are eager and what’s happening outside of school is having a big bearing on it.”
Last year, they came close to eventual winners St Patrick’s, Downpatrick and came close on a few other occasions to another title.
“I think it swings and roundabouts, as the saying goes,” Gillan sums up. “Hopefully it won’t be another six or seven years before we are back at the top table competing for a Mageean Cup.
“The boys are ready and it is one of those things where next Sunday can’t come quick enough. We have done our research on them and they (Kilcormac) are a great side,” he said of a team that had five players on the Offaly team beaten in the dying embers of an All-Ireland final they totally dominated.
“Adam Screeney gets a lot of the headlines for his exploits and even last year with the Offaly minors,” Gillan said.
“When you are playing at that level, against the likes of St Kieran’s (Kilkenny) in the Leinster A.
“You don’t get to the semi-final of an All-Ireland and not be good, so we are definitely not going to take anybody for granted and I’m sure the same can be said for their management, so I can imagine it is going to be a great game.”