By Shaun Casey
ST KILLIAN’S College Garron Tower came agonisingly close to lifting the Mageean Cup last season but lost out by just three points to St Louis Grammer School, Ballymena.
They’re back in the decider once again this season and have retained the services of most of the starting team from the 2022 decider.
Cushendall sharpshooter Joe McLaughlin, fresh off the back of striking 0-3 in last Sunday’s Ulster final triumph against Sleacht Néill, will once again lead the line for Pádraig McIlwaine’s side.
“We’re hoping Joe will be okay, he’s had a tremendous season and he’s a super player,” said the St Killian’s boss McIlwaine.
“He’s really dedicated to his craft, but he’d be the first one to say himself that he’s not the only one on that team, there’s a number of good players there that will all take watching.
“But Joe, he’s definitely moved on to the next level even from last year. He’s had a great run with Cushendall in their senior team and he’s really benefited them, but he’s got a lot of benefits out of it too.
“He’s really grown this year and developed. He’s been getting a load of game time at senior level which has held him in good stead.”
Managing McLaughlin’s load has been key this season, and McIlwaine has worked closely with club manager Brian Delargy. “We’ve had a good relationship with his club management in Cushendall.
“Brian Delargy, I would be on the phone to him, and he’d be on the phone to me just seeing what sessions Joe can do. We feel we’ve managed him well up until now and we haven’t overworked him.
“For example, last week, he would have done nothing with us while preparing for Cushendall and this week he’ll do nothing for Cushendall, preparing for Friday night with us. That way, it’s been really good.
“We’ve been able to lift the phone to each other and nobody has been silly saying we want him at every session, we’ve realised that you just have to manage his load and hopefully we’ve done that quite well.
“We had boys with Glenravel footballers who were playing in Ulster as well and we had no issues there either, they were well managed between ourselves and Con Magee’s.”
McLaughlin nailed 0-10 in last year’s showpiece as St Killian’s came up short, but McIlwaine hopes that can right those wrongs on Friday night.
“The boys nearly set that out after last year’s defeat,” added McIlwaine. “They got a taste for it, and they wanted to be back again. That was always the objective this year was to get to the final and then we’ll see how it goes from there.
“We had quite a young team last year. Of our 15 starting last year we would have 10 or 11 still there but I wouldn’t read a whole lot into that, it really means nothing. There’s two good teams in the final, Cross and Passion are an extremely good team, but we have retained a lot of the boys this year.”