STEVEN POACHER: When the going gets tough

ON Sunday past, Scotstown and holders Glen battled out a mammoth game of football at a wet and windy Athletic Grounds with Glen prevailing by just two points. The Derry side just did enough down the stretch to come out on top, like they have done so many times over the last few years.

With 54 minutes on the clock and the sides drawing, Rory Beggan launched his kick into a stiff breeze to the Scotstown overloaded pod under the stand. Up rose Conor Glass with a huge leap and punched the ball back towards the Scotstown goal while landing and continuing his run. He received the next pass and coolly slotted over a phenomenal score from just outside the 21 under the stand. A match-winning score from a real match winner, I genuinely don’t think there is another player influencing games in the same manner as Glass right now for both his club and county.

However just after that Glass moment, there was a Scotstown attack involving Beggan and Darren Hughes, with Beggan playing a beautifully weighted pass into the path of Darragh Murray who, cutting in at an angle, was one-on-one with the ’keeper. As he pulled the trigger, what looked an almost certain score was denied by Michael Warnock. Miss that block and it’s a goal and Scotstown are two points up with four minutes left on the clock. That’s close to game over. Key moments.

Last Wednesday, our school, St Joseph’s, Newry, were in the final of the Ulster Colleges Danske Bank U-16.5 Pat King Cup against St Colm’s, Draperstown, who were managed by former Derry manager and current Down coach Ciarán Meenagh and alongside him was former Derry star Benny Heron.

Kevin McClorey, a Mayobridge club man, and I coached our young lads and from the first week in September we had over 30 training sessions, multiple meetings pre-school and after school, walk-throughs and we played four challenge games and six competitive fixtures.

From a development viewpoint, it was priceless for the 30 young lads who decided to commit to the panel and can only benefit them and their clubs as we head into 2024.

Our normal training days were Tuesday and Thursday and that never changed. If we had a match then one of the training days was maybe only rehearsing kick-outs or improving decision-making in front of goal.

In the middle of October, we decided to test commitment levels and looked to build some character in the group. We called training for a Friday morning at 7.30am. We had everyone in attendance.

It was dark, we put the floodlights on and the boys had a light breakfast made in the home economics room after it and then onto class. We continued this trend right through to the week before the semi-final, including over our mid-term break. It was hugely rewarding, and it gave the group a real reference point and a real cause to go to.

When things get tough in games, you will always revert to the level of training and the intensity of your sessions and that is something these young boys certainly did, they trained with a savage level of intensity and focus.

In the semi-final, a week before the final, we played Gaelcholáiste Dhoire, the holders of the competition and we came through a battle of epic proportions, winning 0-6 to 0-5 preparing us for another epic encounter against the favourites of the competition, St Colm’s, Draperstown.

The final itself was a huge occasion, played in the beautiful Dub Arena, both schools bringing supporters to add colour and noise to the day.

Draperstown, spearheaded by their Derry minor and inspirational midfielder Paul McNicholl, penned us in for the first 20 minutes of the first half but our own leader, Lorcan Lynch, Newry Bosco and Down minor footballer, started to stamp his authority on the game and his lung-busting runs from deep caused a world of trouble for St Colm’s.

As in the Ulster Club final though, this game was decided on moments.

It was 0-8 to 0-7 to Draperstown when McNicholl capitalised on a mistake in the St Joseph’s defence, stepped inside his man and drilled a low bullet to the corner, it looked destined for the net only for a wonderful save from St Joseph’s keeper DJ Franks. This would be Frank’’ fifth clean sheet in six games with exemplary kicking another impressive facet of the Ballyholland player’s game.

It was an all-round superb team performance from St Joseph’s, Newry. A moment later came the equalising score followed by a goal from young Newry Shamrocks man Alex Heaney that poked St Joseph’s in front for the first time in the game with two minutes to go.

They were relying on their training when the going got tough. It is 13 years since Newry, a population of 100k people, produced a single intercounty senior player for Down, we hope we are on the pathway to changing that stat.

For me, being a Newry man it was so rewarding to see the development and growth in these young lads over the course of the last few months and really enforces the message, when the going gets tough you will revert to how hard you trained. Magic moments.

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