GONE are the days when passage through to a MacLarnon quarter-final was a certainty for St Michael’s.
The strength of school football at this level has never been greater. Out of the 30 boys who took to the field recently at St Paul’s GAA pitch in Taghnevan at least 20 were part of either Armagh, Antrim or Down minor panels in the last two years. The only disappointing feature was the fact that both teams will rue missed chances however the entertained crowd will bear witness to the work rate of both teams and the pressure applied to every scoring chance. The end result is what matters and the Lurgan school now go through to the open draw for the quarter finals.
St Michael’s form in the group stages was patchy with one win one draw and 1 defeat. The defeat came in the first game against Downpatrick where they lost 0-12 to 0-6. It was a game that they were never really in and was a rude awakening to the challenges of Ulster Colleges Senior football. James McDade was a constant threat upfront and scored all but one of St Michael’s points with the other a lovely point from Gareth McGeown pushing forward from defence. The defence were very good throughout with Shea Heffron, Drew McKenna and Jason Rogers in the full back line particularly impressive.
The second game was now hugely important and although a victory of 1-11 to 0-4 looks impressive the match against Keady was a tough one. Tir na Nog’s Paudie Judge got the goal getting on the end of a delivery from James McDade. James added four points of his own and Diarmuid O’Hagan chipped in with three, the last of which ended the game as a contest. Ruairi Loughran, who has been struggling with injury, came off the bench to register two important scores. Other scorers were Alex Mackey and Peter Mulholland.
Up to this point the defence were looking rock solid – yet to concede a goal and only conceding an average of 0-8 per game. To be hit with four goals in the first half with Strabane was a massive shock and left them trailing 4-1 to 0-7 at half time in the final group game. A defeat here would have been a massive setback. Credit to the players though that they pulled themselves out of trouble and perhaps learnt a big lesson that day. Scorers were James McDade 0-7 Diarmuid O’Hagan 0-3 Michael Toland 0-1 Eoin McCabrey 0-1 Paudie Judge 0-1 John Magee 0-1 Peter Mulholland 0-1 Declan Heaney 0-1 to leave the final score a draw 0-16 to 4-4.
All this meant St Michael’s were drawn to play St Patrick’s Knock who have been very successful in previous years and competitions with this particular squad. A difficult game was anticipated and that’s certainly how it played out. St Michael’s goal scorer was again Paudie Judge getting on the end of a through ball from the impressive Drew McKenna to finish superbly to the net and get what was the decisive score even considering it was very early on. Matthew Mulholland added a nice point and second half points from Judge, Diarmuid O’Hagan, Ruairi Loughran and James McDade completed the scoring. However, the victory was secured courtesy of a superb defensive display with Shea Heffron, Drew McKenna and Jason Rogers again very impressive. Aaron Casey, Eoin McCabrey and Paddy Sheehan along with Gareth McGeown helped sweep up any loose breaks and hold Knock to only five points over the hour. Oisin Lenehan was the outstanding midfielder on show and his high fielding certainly shows this Aghagallon player has a lot of potential.
Next up is the quarter final draw which is held later this month and who knows with a lot of hard work over the Christmas period then maybe this squad will turn a few heads.