McLarnon Cup final preview
The Dub Friday 10th February 7-30pm
Rathmore Grammar Belfast v St. Joseph’s Donaghmore
St. Joseph’s Donaghmore will start Friday night’s McLarnon Cup final against Rathmore Grammar as firm favourites after recording a big win over St. Louis, Ballymena in Slaughtneil in the semi-final two weeks ago. The Tyrone side have been mighty impressive in this year’s competition and have looked the team to beat throughout the campaign.
After topping their group St. Joseph’s recorded an impressive win over another Antrim school, St. Mary’s CBS, Glen Road. It was a game that they always had the upper hand in and were well in control by the break having gained an eight point lead. Full forward Mattie McNally bagged all three goals for the winners on the day against opponents who battled hard but only managed a single point from play over the course of the sixty odd minutes.
Rathmore Grammar lost on the opening day of the league section to St. Louis in Ballymena but have shown steady improvement since and despite going into Friday night’s final at the Dub as outsiders should not be ruled out.
Under the guidance of former Antrim and St. John’s player, Gearoid Adams Rathmore defeated Aquinas 0-8 to 0-6 in the quarter final but went into their semi-final meeting with Milford of Donegal as underdogs.
The Belfast side refused to read the script however and a goal and two points by man of the match Michael Morgan helped them bridge a sixteen year gap as they overcame a slow start to beat Loreto Milford in their semi-final on the 4G pitch at Owenbeg a fortnight ago. It was Morgan who settled his team down with their first score of the game after Milford had dominated possession in the early stages.
The Donegal School were on top during the opening exchanges but when Morgan found the target things began to happen and they were soon level as Rory McErlean and Fintann O’Boyle sent over points. McErlean pointed a free to put them ahead for the first time, and though Rory McGrenra brought Loreto back on terms soon afterwards, further points from Morgan and McErlean gave Rathmore a two point lead at the interval. (0-8 to 0-6)
Milford cut the gap back to a point on the restart but three minutes later Michael Morgan hit the telling score when he came out to collect a long ball from the half back line, won possession before battling his way past two defenders and finishing to the net with a clever flick off the outside of his right foot. Morgan then added a point from play and McErlean pointed a free from out on the right.
The Donegal side had plenty of possession, but Rathmore defended well and never really looked under any great pressure. Milford dropped a few longs balls in on the square in the closing stages but the Belfast side held firm to book their place in Friday night’s final.
It was a much more clear-cut victory for St. Joseph’s Donaghmore when they took on St. Louis Ballymena in the second semi-final in Slaughtneil the following day. The Ballymena side gave it everything but were no match for a slick moving Donaghmore side who dominated in nearly every department
The men from Tyrone did the majority of the damage in the opening half with the talismanic Noah Grimes at the forefront. St Joseph’s diminutive number eleven grabbed the all-important goal on the 13th minute and from there St Louis faced an uphill battle.
Despite battling tirelessly, the Kintullagh side struggled to deal with the fluidity and precision of their opponents. Patient and calculated approach play from the Tyrone side combined with tidy finishing from their talented weaponry up front proved to be the blueprint for their success.
A Ronan Molloy pointed free on the tenth minute was followed up quickly with a superb goal from Grimes. The Donaghmore centre forward weaved this way through before caressing a pinpoint effort into the top left of the St Louis net.
Darragh Donaghy’s marauding runs were a constant threat for the Antrim side and he split the posts twice from range before another effort from Grimes found its mark.
Another Donaghmore danger-man, Ronan Molloy, had the final say of the first thirty right on the stroke of the half-time whistle as he converted from the placed ball to leave the score at the interval 1-06 to 0-01 in favour of the Tyrone side.
Despite a much improved second half performance by St. Louis Donaghmore continued to hold the upper hand as Molloy popped up with another two fine scores from play. The Ballymena side responded through Shea O’Broin but Leo Hughes increased the margin for St Joseph’s with a beautifully angled effort from the left flank.
As the game entered its final stages St. Louis threw caution to the wind but with the game more stretched, Donaghmore took full advantage and the ever-dangerous Molloy was on hand to put the gloss on a sweeping counter-attack with five minutes on the clock. Moments later, his partner in crime, Noah Grimes, then finished off yet another flowing attack to increase the gap to eleven points and effectively seal Donaghmore’s final berth.
Noah Grimes, Mattie McNally, Ronan Molloy and Darragh Donaghy have been regular scorers and danger men for St. Joseph’s but the Tyrone College are a well-balanced side and carry a threat from all over the field and will go into Friday night’s final confident that they can lift the McLarnon Cup.
Portglenone man Niall Kelly is part of the management team at St. Joseph’s Donaghmore and the former St. Louis student found himself in the opposite corner against his former school in the semi-final and will bring a good knowledge of Antrim football to the table.
Rathmore Grammar will start this one as underdogs but that won’t worry Gearoid Adams or his charges, indeed the St. John’s man will probably relish the challenge. His side have shown improvement throughout the campaign but will have to find another level if they are win this one.
Michael Morgan hit 1-2 against Milford in the semi-final while Rory McErlean won U17 and U20 championship medals with St. Brigid’s in 2022 and is a player capable of troubling the St. Joseph’s defence.
Conor Logue was another member of that St. Brigid’s double winning side while Vice Captain, Deaglan Mooney has just broken into the Davitt’s senior side and has been prominent in the Rathmore success story this year.
Glenavy’s Fiontan O’Boyle, grandson of former Antrim chairman Joe O’Boyle, captains the Rathmore side and has enjoyed a great debut season with St. Joseph’s where he was voted senior player of the year for 2022 so the Belfast side have plenty of talent at their disposal.
Both colleges will bring a big support to the Dub tomorrow night (Friday) and that support can play a part to lift the under dogs who will need to bring a level of controlled aggression to the game if they are to unsettle a St. Joseph’s side who should have just enough to edge the contest.
St Joseph’s Donaghmore v St. Louis
L Quinn; J McNally, B Hughes, J Rafferty; D Donaghy (0-02,) J Clarke, C O’Neill; S Scullion, J McKenna; L Hughes (0-01,) N Grimes (1-03,) MJ Mansell; C Drayne (0-01,) M McNally, R Molloy (0-05)
Rathmore v Milford: K Dobrowiski, M Lloyd, D Mooney, C Devlin, T Lloyd, C Logue, S Ferris, O Arthurs, R Grant, C Blaney, R McErlean, D McGurk, F O’Boyle capt., M Morgan, G Cowan.
Subs used: Rudi Smith and Oscar Conlon
Rathmore scorers: Michael Morgan (1-2), Rory McErlean (0-4), Fintann O’Boyle (0-2), Garrett Cowan (0-1), Cormac Blaney (0-1)