Mar Winner – Connall O’Boyle
ST Patrick’s Day 2014 will go down as a famous day in the illustrious history of St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny.
Renowned for its sporting excellence, the Letterkenny college recorded another impressive triumph when they defeated Colaisti Inis Eoghain in the Athletic Grounds, Armagh to win their fifth MacLarnon Cup. St Eunan’s recent victories in the MacLarnon were backboned by magnificent contributions from Colm Mc- Fadden in 2000 and Michael Murphy in 2007, however the class of 2014 were a different style of team.
By their manager, Neil Gordon’s own admission, they did not have a marquee forward, but that did not hinder their chances and they were victorious thanks to a a ferocious workrate and a well-orchestrated team strategy. Few epitomised the determination and desire of the team better than their tigerish corner-back, Connall O’Boyle.
Fast and athletic, focussed and conscientious, powerful and tenacious – O’Boyle has all the attributes of the modern corner-back. The young Ballyare man made the number four shirt his own as he delivered a number of masterful performances en route to the final, and he didn’t disappoint in the decider either, picking up the man of the match award.
St Eunan’s MacLarnon campaign had been solid, if not spectacular, but they upped their game in the semi-final and hammered St Malachy’s, Belfast to set up an intriguing all- Donegal final with Inishowen. Gordon built his team around a rigid rearguard, but there was some soul searching to be done in the first minute of the decider, when Inishowen’s star man Darach O’Connor, breached St Eunan’s defence and fired the ball into the net. “Don’t ask me about that.” laughs O’Boyle. “It was a nightmare start.
The only good thing about it was that it came early and it gave us a chance to recover.” “We started to close up on them after that. We pressurised them from further out and that’s what we had been working on in training,” he added. O’Boyle was tasked with marking his county minor colleague and one of Inishowen’s most potent attackers, John Campbell, in Armagh. The pair have become accustomed to marking each other and when Campbell got the upper hand in Buncrana’s Minor club championship final win over St Eunan’s last year, O’Boyle made a promise to himself that things would be different the next time they faced each other.
“He held that one over me for a good while, so I was determined that I wouldn’t come out second best again.” Campbell started well, but O’Boyle gradually got on top with his tackling and reading of the game giving him the edge. As the game progressed, the 17 year-old became increasingly influential and he gave a warrior-like display in defence, utilising every last drop of energy he had to win the ball. With the game approaching its climax, O’Boyle picked up an injury when Campbell accidentally landed on his head.
He admits that he was slightly jaded after the incident but it didn’t put him off his game and he stood firm with the rest of his team-mates to land the MacLarnon crown. “It was unbelievable. I can’t remember too much about the end of the match, but we were delighted when the final whistle blew. “All year our aim was to win the MacLarnon and it was brilliant to get over the line,” said the fifth-year student.
“Everyone got behind us. The school helped us with food before training and matches, we got new tops and hoodies and the teachers helped too organising buses and did whatever they could. It was a huge effort from the whole school.” Five days after their triumph in Armagh, St Eunan’s returned to action against Colaiste na Carraige in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Ballyshannon.
Carrick were formidable opponents and they posed plenty of questions, but St Eunan’s had the answers and they won 1-11 to 0-7. “The MacLarnon was our aim for the year and anything after that was a bonus. We played Carrick in the quarter-final and that was another huge test. “We didn’t underestimate them but I was surprised with how much pressure we were under early on. Thankfully, our free-taker (Sean Hume) was on top form that day and we managed to grind out a result.”
That victory over Carrick sent the Sentry Hill outfit into the All-Ireland semi-final, where they met St Aidan’s CBS from Dublin in Inniskeen. They battled valiantly, but the Glasnevin side physicality overpowered them and they eventually succumbed to defeat. “Three games in two weeks took a lot of us, but in fairness they were a very impressive team and I’d be very surprised if they don’t win the All- Ireland.
“I can’t fault anyone. Every player gave everything they had and it just wasn’t enough on the day.” The disappointment is slowly diminishing and the ambitious O’Boyle has already set his sights on making an impression at MacRory Cup level next year in his . “I think we will lose eight of the panel from this year, but everyone else is ready to make the step up. We’ve had a good team at this age group and we want to go and make an impact at MacRory now.”
O’Boyle had a busy diary ahead of him this year as he will line out for the St Eunan’s senior and minor teams, while he is also a member of Declan Bonner’s Donegal minor squad. “Declan and the minor management were really helpful when we were playing for the College. They were understanding about getting off training , and that was a big help. “We’re back in full-time now with the minors and we’re all training hard and hoping for a good year.”
However, before things really heat up, O’Boyle will have a chance to relax and recharge as he heads off on a School Tour to Beijing on Thursday. “I can’t wait – it’s going to be unreal to see China. It will be nice to get away with the school, and it will be good to get a break after the MacLarnon campaign and a wee rest before the heavy training starts for the summer.”