There was heartbreak but also tremendous pride for a strong Loreto College Coleraine team which contested the Final of the Danske Bank Ulster Colleges Rafferty Cup on Friday evening.
The local lads lost by a single point against St. Michael’s Grammar School, Lurgan.
Played in difficult conditions but with tremendous support for the Coleraine side, the final was the culmination of an outstanding campaign by a dedicated and enthusiastic group of players, coached by Mr Seán Murtagh.
With just ten minutes left in the final at the Queen’s University Dub Arena, the momentum was with Loreto, who had come back from a nine points deficit at the break to edge ahead at 2-8 to St Michael’s 1-10.
Suddenly St Michael’s seemed to seize the momentum, and Shayne Lavery pointed twice. Again Loreto went ahead close to the end at 2-10 to 1-12, but Shea Geraghty levelled the game and right at the death sub Odhrán Magill emerged a Lurgan hero with the winning point.
St Michael’s had seemed in control throughout the first half and led by 1-10 to 0-4 at half time. Loreto were forced to play against the elements during this period and found it hard to break down a stubborn Lurgan defence. Eoin Canning opened the scoring with a close range effort for Loreto and Conor Gillen added a free soon after. At this point St. Michael’s started to take control, using the strong wind to their advantage. Fergal Dillon had added another point for the Coleraine side after good work from Mark Cassidy until Lurgan’s Shayne Lavery found the Loreto net. Conor Gillen added a further point from play to leave Loreto down by 9 points at the break.
Despite scoring a couple of early second half points from Aidan McGonigle and Captain Shane McIntyre, it was evident that Loreto needed a goal to give themselves a chance. Two arrived around the three-quarter mark: Conor Gillen had scored a glorious point in the 41st minute, and he added the opening goal direct from a free a few minutes after.
That score got his side going and when their second goal arrived from Fergal Dillon, they were suddenly in the lead for the first time. Loreto had now seized hold of the game with the impressive Liam Tosh causing Lurgan serious problems.
Year 10 wing half back Cathal Kearney was also a huge driving force for Loreto along with James McKeown, Liam Ferris, Aidan Boyle and the impressive Fearghal Close as their defence stood firm. Aidan McGonigle then added another fantastic point from distance to keep his side in front.
However, with Fearghal Close departing with an injury sustained from a terrible foul, the initiative was handed back to Lurgan who just made it home by one point as the first winners of the new Danske Bank Rafferty Cup.
Mr Seán Murtagh, team coach, paid tribute to his group of players for the determination and commitment that they have shown to reach this final. Mr Murtagh commentated that the success of this campaign was the product of four years of work by this group after moving up to play at this grade by winning the Mallon Cup in May 2012.
Mr Murtagh also highlighted his pride in working with this fantastic group of players and has challenged them to go one better the next time this team will be together for the MacLarnon Cup in two years time.
Mr Michael James, Principal of Loreto College, congratulated all team members and Mr Murtagh on a spirited and dedicated campaign, on behalf of all the staff and students of the College.
Mr James commented that the team’s success had caught the imagination of everyone at Loreto and had made a tremendous contribution to school spirit in the lead up to the final. With the team members mostly drawn from Year 12 and Year 11, there is clearly still much success to anticipate from these players in terms of future years of Loreto football.