BY CHRIS MCNULTY
THE MacRory Cup is not an easy place to be, but St Eunan’s College are working hard in an attempt to establish themselves as regular competitors.
Their brief return is over after a year, with the next two years set to see a return to the MacLarnon Cup – yet they hope that, before long, they’ll be back among Ulster College’s big hitters again.
In the hours after St Eunan’s College bowed out of the MacRory Cup following a 14-point defeat by St Patrick’s, Cavan, last Saturday in Dunmoyle, the College Twitter account posted a message that shows just how serious schools football has become.
@EunansFootball tweeted: “And the process has already begun with the new College Development squad – current 6th class pupils in training @ Sentry Hill. #7YrPlan”
Each Sunday morning, a group of around 20 boys, sixth class pupils from an array of local national schools get together for training under the new programme put in place by Peter McGeehin.
“Once the kids in the Northern schools do the Eleven Plus, they’re in secondary school so they have an extra year in comparison with the kids here,” McGeehin explains.
“That does give them a bit of a head start, so we’re just trying to give ourselves a chance to compete. I think it will help to even the playing field and, at the very least, it will let our lads become familiar with one another.”
The College Development Programme was rolled out in October and, before the end of the school year McGeehin hopes to have matches for his group against an Inishowen select and another against St Columb’s College, Derry.
He says: “You go to the likes of Bellaghy and Lavey, the thing doesn’t stop at all. They keep going. Here, we tend to stop and the players play soccer or rugby for a while. Some kids don’t play any other sports and it’s important to keep up the interest in the GAA even when the club season isn’t running.
“They’re becoming familiar with each other now again. By the time they’re starting to play in the first year competitions next year for the school they should have a good understanding of each other.”
Even during the snow and ice, the programme kept going with the group meeting indoor at the ‘Old Rec’, while they’ve also been utilising the all-weather pitch at the College.
Players from the club catchment areas of St Eunan’s, Letterkenny Gaels, Glenswilly, Termon, Convoy, Naomh Colmcille and St Michael’s are among those meeting up while the likes of Manus Friel (Dunfanaghy), Paul Callaghan (Newtown), Declan O’Donnell (Letterkenny), Conor McDermott (Convoy), James Cassidy (Termon) and Sean Ferry (Letterkenny) have all aided with coaching.
McGeehin says: “We need help. We’re trying to encourage parents who drop their kids off to stay and lend a hand if they have any coaching experience at all. You can never have enough help with a project like this. The coaches in the College are all teachers as well and we need to give them whatever help we can.
“Essentially St Eunan’s College is an academy and we’re trying to look after the players’ progression. There is what is effectively a soccer academy and a basketball academy running parallel to it so the coaches are having to share pupils.”
Although players from Letterkenny schools such as Lurgybrack, Woodlands, Scoil Colmcille and Illistrin are part of the programme, organisers can’t call upon pupils at Gaelscoil Adhamnáin.
So far, McGeehin feels that the programme has been a huge hit – and Gary McDaid, who was manager of the MacRory Cup team this year, is glowing in his praise for the work being done.
McDaid says: “Things are bright for the future. We already have a college development squad up and running for sixth class boys. They get together and get a head start. It gives them a look around the college and that side of it is great for lads who might be in some way unsure about where they’re headed.
“It’s a great initiative and we’ll be hoping to reap dividends off that now in years to come.
“We want to play in the MacRory Cup as much as possible. It’s where you want to be and where you want to test yourself. It’s where you’ll improve.
“Top grade footballers come out of the MacRory Cup and we’re glad to get a chance, once in a while, to play in it. There’s massive work involved in the MacRory Cup. These boys came in and were told that it was a six-year plan. They were sold that plan. It takes massive hours and man power – and it’ll take more to progress further than we did.”
St Eunan’s have a proud tradition in college’s football and McGeehin has wasted no time in giving out the lessons of the past to the budding heroes of the future.
He says: “We’ve been teaching them a lot about the history of St Eunan’s, showing video clips and slides of big games, big crowds and the players like Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden who’ve played for the school. St Eunan’s has a big tradition in the MacRory Cup – we want the school, ultimately, to be back playing regular MacRory Cup football again.
“When I was at St Eunan’s, we played in the ‘B’ competitions for a fair few years, but we won one of those one time and Paddy Tunney put us into the MacRory Cup. We had seven or eight county minors at the time, but we weren’t near the level at all.
“Technically and physically, we were every bit as good as the other teams, but they all seemed to be so far ahead on things like team play. By the time you get to around 19 years of age, everyone more or less catches up, but these players in the Northern schools have the extra year.
“We’re focussing a lot of our stuff on tactical awareness.”