Heavyweights set to collide in block-buster semi-final

By Niall Gartland

THE last two MacRory Cup champions go head-to-head in a blockbuster semi-final clash this Friday evening in Coalisland with the meeting of Omagh CBS and St Mary’s, Magherafelt.

The ‘Brothers’ booked their spot in the last four with a hard-earned victory over Our Lady’s, Castleblayney, while their opponents ground out an impressive and perhaps unexpected win against a vaunted St Patrick’s, Maghera in front of a bumper crowd in Owenbeg.

Omagh CBS claimed last year’s MacRory Cup title while St Mary’s, Magherafelt emerged triumphant in 2021. St Mary’s are managed by Kevin Brady, who just so happens to be the brother-in-law of Omagh CBS boss Diarmaid McNulty, while also involved with the Magherafelt-based school is John McElholm, whose son Eoin captained last year’s Omagh CBS team to a historic MacRory and Hogan Cup double.

But the main priority of both camps this week will be navigating a path to the final and McNulty recognises it won’t be easy to get the better of a St Mary’s side who can call upon All-Ireland minor winners like James Sargent and Conall Higgins.

“It’ll be interesting, we played each other in a friendly in November, it should be another good tussle,” he said.

“Like last year it’s three Tyrone teams and a Derry team in the last four and that’s not a coincidence, the quality is very strong at underage level in Tyrone and St Mary’s have some seriously good footballers as well.”

Omagh CBS were in cruise control of much of their quarter-final clash against Our Lady’s, Castleblayney a fortnight ago but the concession of two late goals made for a nerve-racking finale. They still played some good football on the night exemplified by the efforts of some of their Hogan Cup champions of last year like captain Callum Daly, Charlie Donnelly, Ruairi McCullagh and Nathan Farry.

It wasn’t always straightforward and there was only one point between the teams at the final whistle so McNulty, speaking in the immediate aftermath of the game, was relieved just to emerge relatively unscathed.

“Quarter-finals are for one thing only and that one thing is winning. We’re relieved definitely, probably disappointed in the way we conceded those late goals, maybe I wasn’t totally prepped myself and Ciaran (McBride) and I will go back to the drawing board and try to tighten up the plan that we had and hopefully that’ll be alright the next day.”

Omagh CBS were full value for last year’s surge to All-Ireland honours but they had a few close shaves in the knock-out rounds of the MacRory. “We won the quarter-final last year by two points and the semi-final by a point. That’s knock-out football, it’s championship and we’re in the semi-final and we’re glad to be there. We scored 1-14 from play which is serious kicking as well in cold conditions. We’ve plenty to work on and we’ll hopefully go well the next day.”

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