By Niall Gartland
SUNDAY’S showdown isn’t the first time Omagh CBS and St Patrick’s Academy Dungannon have met in the MacRory Cup final, and Sean Warnock and Dermot Thornton have contrasting memories of their previous meeting back in 2009.
It’s hard to believe it’s fifteen full years ago – where on earth does the time ago? – and on the Academy boys clinched back-to-back titles with a 2-7 to 0-12 victory at Healy Park.
Sandwiched between Tyrone’s All-Ireland minor winning runs of 2008 and 2010, it should come as no great surprise that there were a raft of prominent footballers on show.
Peter Harte ran the show for Omagh CBS in the first-half while they could also call upon the likes of St Enda’s duo Ronan O’Neill and Conan Grugan, Tommy Canavan, Aodhan O’Donnell and the aforementioned Sean Warnock.
St Pat’s, meanwhile, were spearheaded by Niall McKenna, who won the man of the match award for his performance in the final, Niall Morgan, Ciaran Gervin, Kiefer Morgan and our other interviewee, Dermot Thornton, who went on to enjoy a fine club career with Coalisland.
It was a storied period for the Dungannon-based school; they claimed the MacRory and Hogan Cup double in 2008 and followed suit in 2009 with another MacRory title. Leading the line was a certain Ciaran Gourley, who’s still at the coalface all these years later.
Despite boasting an array of talent in their ranks, Sean Warnock recalls that Omagh CBS weren’t really expected to make a shape at the MacRory Cup in 2009. They were squeezed out in the final by a point, so it really is a case of what could have been.
Warnock, a key player for Greencastle these days, said: “Our team hadn’t really done much the whole way coming up the school. We made no finals at all so we weren’t really expecting things heading into the 2009 competition. Conor McFlynn was over us and he was very good and Brother Ennis played a big part as well.
“We ended up losing the final and we made it back again in 2010 and lost again so it’s bittersweet in a way. I’ve good memories but at the same time would like the medal.”
The Brothers built up a head of steam in the first-half with Peter Harte finding the net in the 13th minute. They found themselves in a commanding position as half-time approached but a Niall McKenna goal left only three points between the teams at the interval. St Patrick’s worked their way into the lead and held on to claim their fifth ever MacRory Cup title.
Warnock said: “My memory of it is that Peter Harte almost dragged us over the line by himself. A fair amount of us performed under par, myself included, though we found ourselves in the lead at half-time.
“I marked Niall McKenna, he was in full-forward and he took me for a goal before half-time.
“He finished up as man of the match which isn’t a particularly great memory for me!
“He was very good, he’d a great turn of pace and I think that’s the last time I played in full-back, the legs were too slow.
He continued: “It was nip and tuck in the second-half but they managed to keep us at arm’s length. Looking back on It, they were there for the taking whereas we never looked like winning the 2010 final against St Colman’s.”
Harbouring happier memories of the day’s events is Coalisland’s Dermot Thornton, who slotted a second-half penalty to help St Patrick’s Academy on their merry way.
But it had taken them some time to get going and managerial duo Ciaran Gourley and Peter Herron felt compelled to read the riot act at half-time.
“We were coming up against lads like Peter Harte and Ronan O’Neill and everyone was already aware of their abilities, we’d already crossed paths at club football and with Tyrone. We couldn’t get to grips with Peter at all in the first-half but Niall McKenna’s goal was a blessing for us, it meant we were only three points down at the break.
“I remember we got a dressing down from Ciaran Gourley and Peter Herron at the break and we managed to get the show back on the road in the second-half.”
15 years on, former Tyrone defender Gourley remains in charge of St Pat’s as they go in search of a sixth ever MacRory title this weekend. Thornton has nothing but praise for the man from the Rock.
“Ciaran’s put in a great stint. He’s very calm and measured, he isn’t one for punching tables or anything like that.
“He knows his football and he knows how to get his point across. We’d Peter Herron in with us as well, he was another man who was part of our Hogan Cup winning team back in 1997.
“Peter had a unique way of telling you you weren’t doing things right without actually shouting at you. Ciaran has ‘Pixie’ [Ryan Pickering] involved with him this year and he’s another lad who was about in that era, he captained us to the MacRory and Hogan Cups in 2008.”
One of the leading lights on that St Patrick’s Dungannon team was goalkeeper Niall Morgan. He was always destined for success, according to Thornton:
“I played soccer with Niall as well, he was always a top class ‘keeper. He’d ambitions of playing outfield at that stage. He always had an unbelievable kick-out, he was deadly accurate, had great hands and brilliant in the air. You knew playing for Tyrone was the natural step up for him.”
This week, the MacRory Cup final will be all that matters to both the Omagh CBS and St Pat’s camps. Thornton explains why it’s such a special competition.
“You build serious friendships out of school’s football. 15 years down the line, I’m still in contact with my old teammates.
“A lot of that group were very close, you spend so much time training and playing matches on top of that. It’s impossible not to form a tight bond with each other.”