St. Columb's College face Donaghmore for place in Mac Larnon Cup quarter-finals
Mac Larnon Cup, Second Knockout Round
St Columb’s College coach, Michael McLaughlin, believes city schools are now seeing the benefits of the Cathair Dhoire project as the Buncrana Road boys prepare to face St. Joseph’s, Donaghmore today (Friday, 5pm) for a place in the Mac Larnon Cup quarter-finals.
The College returned to the ‘B’ grade competition after winning last year’s Markey Cup and defeated the Dungannon school on route to lifting the cup, but McLaughlin says that will count for nothing under the Celitc Park lights.
"We played them last season in the Markey Cup and they were a very good team,” explained the St. Columb’s coach, “Like ourselves, they made the decision to go up a grade rather than stay and we know they’ll have their homework well done on us. They will have player profiles done on all our lads and were watching the Cathair Dhoire game against Carrickmacross recently which featured some of our boys to see what else they could pick up
"We expect them to be very well prepared. In the Quarter-final in Magherafelt last year we got over the line by four or five points but they put us under an awful lot of pressure toward the end. We were, not exactly holding on as such, but we were never comfortable. We were always worried about conceding a goal or something like that and the game would change dramatically.
“We managed to hold them at arm’s length but it was a very close game.”
The James McQuillan managed St. Columb’s team features a number of players who will experience Mac Rory Cup football for the first time this season with Cathair Dhoire and McLaughlin, who also coached the amalgamated side, said the benefits are clear.
"We think part of the reason we won the Markey Cup last year was that the boys were getting more football and being exposed to better games almost every week with Cathair Dhoire,” added the former Sean Dolan’s player.
“We do expect the same this year from the Mac Rory Cup experience. Even talking to the boys, they were saying the step up, it was a big step, but it hasn’t been intimidating for them so their mindsets are changing which is a huge thing.
“These boys are not looking around themselves now and thinking, ‘Oh no, it’s Donaghmore’ or “It’s Carrickmacross’ or “It’s Dungannon. I see now they are really starting to believe in their own ability. Sometimes it’s hard to believe in yourself if you are always playing ‘B’ or ‘C’ level with both your club and school so the Cathair Dhoire project is giving them the belief that they can play because we already know they can play, it is just a matter of getting it out of them.
“The players are carrying themselves differently with confidence. If you have a confident guy who is coming from somewhere he has been playing ‘A’ grade football, and he’s walking around ‘B’ or ‘C’ grade, he’s confident to try things, to lead, to communicate and bring the other players along.
“That’s one of the big knock on effects of the Cathair Dhoire project for, not just us at St. Columb’s, but all the city schools.”
And despite being their first year back at Mac Larnon level, McLaughlin is hoping that confidence can inspire the St. Columb’s players to reach the latter stages of the competition.
“It’s been a few years since we were genuine contenders for a Mac Larnon. Our last big outing was against Cookstown five years ago now. That was a really good team and we have watched a lot of those players now playing senior football with their clubs which is heartening.
“We’d like to think we can give the competition a good rattle but, at this stage, it’s knock out football and anything can happen as we learned with the Cathair Dhoire game recently.
“I was on the sideline and thought we had the game won. There were four minutes on the clock and I couldn’t see where Carrickmacross were going to get a goal and suddenly, one whistle, a penalty and we are two points down in the blink of an eye. You can’t take your eye off the ball ever. You have to play every minute that’s in front of you with a wise head.
“I’m hoping that disappointment gives the players involved an edge if Friday’s game is tight. If we are only a point up or point down with time running out, the boys are now getting the experience to know how to deal it because a huge part of football is having that experience to deal with certain pressure situations.”