20 Dec 2015

MacRory Golden Era for Maghera

It is twenty years ago since St Patrick’s Maghera captain Conleth Murphy lifted the Hogan Cup in the stand of Navan’s Páirc Tailteann after his side beat Wexford’s Good Counsel in convincing fashion.  In March that year at Clones Sean Marty Lockhart was the winning MacRory captain after ‘the most complete performance’ any team from the school had ever given.  It was a golden age of MacRory football in the school.

Maghera captain about to lift the Hogan Cup in 1995
This assessment of the 1995 crop came from legendary coach Adrian McGuckin, a man with a highly successful record and a special affiliation with St Patrick’s Maghera.  Since joining ‘the MacRory’ in the mid 1970’s St Patrick’s has meant only one thing.  A trip to Casement Park or Coalisland and more often than not the MacRory Cup joined them at the front of John O’Kane’s bus for the journey home.  It was tradition.

During the mid 1990s, Maghera appeared in four consecutive MacRory finals 1993-1996, losing out to eventual Hogan champions St Colman’s in 1993 before going on to win three titles in a row, including that 1995 Hogan Cup triumph.  Last week we got the thoughts of Adrian McGuckin about this successful period.

“It was always a continuous golden age in St. Patrick's with this being a special time as it coincided roughly with the great Derry team who had won the All Ireland in 1993,” outlined McGuckin.  From the 1989 and 1990 double Hogan winning teams the likes of Karl Diamond, Brian McCormick, Anthony Tohill and Eamon Burns returned to their alma mater with Sam.

MacRory & Hogan Winners 1990
Added in with the McCuskers, the Downeys, Damien Cassidy, Dermot McNicholl,  Enda Gormley, Don Kelly, Johnny McGurk and Danny Quinn it was a significant number bringing the coveted trophy into the packed Sports Hall on that September afternoon in 1993.  McGuckin made a speech about all the past pupils and his memories of them in the blue, black and white.  Sitting on the floor listening eagerly were the players who would form the core of those mid 1990s squads – after all success breeds success. 

“To be honest, I regard 94, 95, and 96 as one team. There was a big crossover during those three years. 1995 was probably the strongest panel of the three years and our performance in the MacRory Final that year against St Colman’s in Clones was probably the most complete performance any team in the school had ever given.” 

The 2013 Hogan Final performance wasn’t half bad either.  Last November at the launch of “The MacRory Cup  –  The Story of Ulster Colleges’ Senior Football” McGuckin was again in his element as those in attendance debated the performances of various players and team over various generations.

1995 MacRory & Hogan Winners

If 1995 was the strongest panel, then in contrast the 1994 group had a bumpier journey to glory.  They came from nowhere as McGuckin explains.  “1994 is a story in itself but again we produced a superb performance that St Patrick’s morning in the Athletic Grounds. We played St Patrick’s Armagh in virtually their backyard. They had a few good signings during that summer including Oisin McConville. They were hot favourites and that particular team of ours had never qualified out of their group in their younger age groups and they put on a show that day and won handy in the end.”

After a convincing win over St Brendan’s Killarney it was a Hogan Final pairing with old rival’s St Jarlath’s Tuam.  After the original fixture was called off at the eleventh hour due to an unplayable pitch it was another arduous trip back to Longford.  McGuckin takes up the story from there.

“The 1994 Hogan final was a classic game, the final result [a 3-11 to 0-9 defeat] would suggest an easy victory for St Jarlath’s but that was not the case. We played brilliantly that day and Jarlath’s hit us with goals at right time for them but wrong time for us. When you consider that St Jarlath’s team had eight players who helped win the Sam Maguire for Galway four years later is testament to the effort put in that day.”

1994 MacRory Champions

When the campaign began in 1995 Maghera were favourites for the MacRory but with McGuckin’s powers of motivation and psychology he set the standards so high among the group.  Mediocrity wasn’t tolerated in the search for glory but on that path was a significant hurdle in the form of the Abbey.  When asked if it was the defining moment, McGuckin put the game in perspective.

“Well it was no different from any other day really. Again the Abbey had the likes of Aidan O'Rourke, Enda McNulty, the McEntee brothers and other players who helped Armagh win the All Ireland in 2002.  They were favourites as a result of having so many big name players at that time but we always beat the Abbey and the heavy snow helped us showcase the tremendous character that our teams possessed at that time.”

After MacRory glory the different age limit robbed Maghera of six of their squad, captain Sean Marty Lockhart, Mark Diamond, David O’Neill, Fintan Martin, Sean McPeake, Dominic Lynn for the Hogan campaign.  If mediocrity was a key word then adversity was another in McGuckin’s vocabulary.  He thrived on it and inspired his charges how to overcome it.  He was ahead of his time in this regard.

“It was [the loss of the six players] a blow but we didn't really have much time to dwell on it or worry about it.  If you remember my panels were always 26. We played that MacRory Final on a Tuesday and had to turn around and play Tuam CBS on the Saturday in Ballyshannon. I hadn't enough time to add to our panel so I just kept the 20 remaining players, it was a tough game and we had to really give it our all to make the All Ireland Final.”

Maghera had played both Tuam schools early in the year but McGuckin took no chances and went on a further scouting mission.  His preparation was top notch.  “I must have been feeling confident of winning the MacRory as I had travelled west to Tuam for the Connacht final and remember being pleased when Tuam CBS won but they were a very good side and I knew we would have to play our very best to beat them in the semi final.”

Adrian McGuckin, Paul Hughes and
Dermot McNicholl celebrate the 2003 success
These were great days in the school and McGuckin gives us his recollections of it all and how the players went on to achieve many county, club and college accolades.  It was very much an education for life.  Sport was one thing but McGuckin handed on something more than that.

 “When you played for St Patrick's you were capable of playing for anyone or winning anything.  It was great to win and the best feeling in the world was to arrive back in Maghera on St Patrick’s evening with the MacRory Cup sitting in front of Big John’s Bus.”

“We also hoped that they had not just picked up how to win football games or medals but how to win in life when they went out into the big world and that they would become leaders in whatever field they pursued but more importantly that in some way, they are assisting society in a positive manner.”

What made it even more poignant for McGuckin was having his sons Ronan and Adrian involved around that time.  “At the time, Adrian was just another team member like everyone else but when you get to my stage in life and you start reliving your life, it was very special. He was Lower Sixth at the time and got Man of the Match in the 1995 MacRory Final and six months later he shared Man of The Match with his good friend Gerard Cassidy when we beat Bellaghy in the county senior final.”

“It was probably even more memorable from a family point of view the previous year when Ronan captained the winning team in Armagh and Adrian was right full back. He was a fifth year marking Oisin McConville who was in Upper Sixth. He maintains to this day that he is only defender ever to hold Oisin scoreless over a game.  It was a very happy home that night.”

Throughout all these successes there was another common trend.  Good honest hard training, plenty of practice games and constant work on the basic skills.  We asked McGuckin has the game and sport in general changed much in the last twenty years.

“There have been massive changes over last five years, never mind the last twenty years, some for the better and some not so much.  If you look at the three teams who have remained permanently successful over the past 15/20 years, the New Zealand All Blacks in Rugby Union, the Kilkenny Hurling Team and the Crossmaglen Gaelic Football team.  What do they have in common?”

McGuckin points out the similarities.  “The basic skills of their game are perfected but allowing for individual flair.  They have a serious level of all types of fitness.  There is also massive character, unity, determination and belief.  On top of all of these there is an outrageous desire to win.”

The current Maghera Corn nA nÓg team recently lost their final against Macartan’s.  The 1995 Hogan team also lost in the final of ‘their’ Corn na nÓg with a late goal in heartbreaking fashion in Clogher.  In football terms it felt like the end of the world.  It wasn’t.  Four years on in Navan it was Maghera who were college Kings of Ireland. 


Two decades later Sean Marty Lockhart is passing that legacy on to various Maghera teams and Damian McErlain is doing likewise with Derry minors.  The baton has been passed on and I’m sure both men will have picked up a lot from McGuckin.  The lessons for life have been passed on to the next batch of leaders and so the cycle continues.

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