St Colman’s, Newry are intent on continuing MacRory Cup tradition

October 12, 2016

Very few people know more about the footballing traditions of St Colman’s, Newry than Cathal Murray, a past pupil and current coach. He spoke to Séamas McAleenan about his hopes and expectations ahead of this season’s MacRory Cup campaign…

IN 1980, Cathal Murray walked into St Colman’s College in Newry to begin his second-level education.

Like many other first years from the small parishes around south Down and south Armagh, his school dreams for the next seven years would revolve around Ulster Colleges football competitions, as had been the case for the generations before him who had walked through the gates on the Armagh Road up to Violet Hill.

St Colman’s have a huge football tradition. The young Murray could walk along the corridors and see photographs of teams with Dalton, Corn na nÓg, Rannafast and MacRory Cups in front of them dating back to the 1940s – and a couple of Hogan Cups as well.

The names were familiar ones, players that collected All-Ireland medals with Down in the 1960s, or had played for Armagh in the 1977 All-Ireland final. Murray would also meet along the same corridors the giants of the sixth form, players that would go on to lift the 1981 MacRory Cup – the likes of Greg Blaney, already a Down senior player, and full-back Michael Doyle who, like Murray, would later return to the school as a teacher, and a football coach.

Cathal Murray’s journey through St Colman’s was decorated with Corn na nÓg, Rannafast and even a Hogan medal – but sadly, no MacRory souvenir: “For two seasons during the 1980s, the winners of the Rannafast Cup represented Ulster in the Hogan series because of an age anomaly,” said Murray.

“We got that chance in 1986 and beat St Joseph’s, Artane to bring the college a third Hogan. The following year the two Newry schools reached the MacRory final in Lurgan and Abbey beat us. It was my last chance to win a MacRory, although the majority of the team were back in 1988 to keep the MacRory tradition alive.”

Those Abbey boys joined up with the St Colman’s players under Pete McGrath, one of Murray’s teachers, to win the All-Ireland minor that year and Cathal was on the senior panel in 1991 when the Mourne men secured the first Sam Maguire win by an Ulster side since the 1960s.

He was by then a young teacher and went on to spend the next 13 years at St Louis’, Kilkeel, where he was behind the school’s first MacLarnon Cup and All-Ireland success in 2004. They moved into the MacRory in 2005 and lost both the MacCormick and MacRory Cup finals to Omagh CBS, the latter in a replay.

A year later, after the retirement of Ray Morgan, Murray was appointed head of PE at St Colman’s and joined a group of dedicated coaches on the staff “to continue the tradition”: “One of my coaches from the 1980s, Fr Stevenson, who had also retired by that time, met me in the priests’ dining room and said ‘welcome home, Cathal,” said Murray.

“I felt that the baton had been passed on to me. Along with the other dedicated sports coaches in the school – some like Mickey [Doyle], Declan [Mussen] and myself are past MacRory players here – we see ourselves as keepers of the tradition. As we have followed Pete and Ray, others will follow us and, please God, young lads from the area will come up the avenue as we did, aspiring to win MacRorys and other cups in the blue of St Colman’s.”

Murray and his management teams carried on the winning habit, collecting back-to-back Hogans in 2010 and 2011, when the current MacRory Cup panel were in their early years in the college and in awe of those players, as he had been 30 years earlier.

He still has that tingle of excitement ahead of Saturday’s opening game in Emyvale against Omagh CBS: “At this time of the year, you can’t get the full panel together because of U16 and minor championships in both Down and Armagh. Last week we had our first full session.

“But no, we just want to get into the games, where you see the team develop, where players you think might make it get a chance to prove themselves and tie down places. Our main players this year would be Armagh lads – Rian O’Neill, Conor O’Neill, Eoghan McDonnell – who were all in the team last year.”

And what teams have St Colman’s got to keep an eye on? “I think Patrician, Carrickmacross will be a team to watch,” said Murray.

“They won a Rannafast and MacLarnon last year and have good players and remind me of what St Louis’ were like when we first went into the MacRory. We felt we had nothing to lose and we nearly won it then. They could do something similar this year.

“St Macartan’s shouldn’t be too far off the pace either, along with St Mary’s, Magherafelt and, of course, Maghera. They have been a constant since my playing days and they are notoriously difficult to beat – any year.”

With the mention of Maghera, we are back again on the theme of tradition. St Patrick’s and St Colman’s are the schools at the top of the MacRory leaderboard, and the Ulster schools with the most Hogan Cups.

St Colman’s are at the top of each list and Murray hopes to keep them ahead of their great rivals, until it is his turn to pass the baton over to the next “keepers of the tradition”.

Séamas McAleenan Publish in Irish News 12th October 2016