February 11th next year will see Armagh’s Box-It Athletic Grounds packed to watch a very special Danske Bank MacRory Cup Final.
The Centenary MacRory Cup final! The blue riband of Ulster Schools! TV cameras, photographers, a packed press gallery, the Artane Band! A far cry from the first game played in the competition on the 21st November 1923 between St Patrick’s College, Armagh and St Macartan’s, Monaghan.
However, the birth of the MacRory Cup, or indeed the beginning of schools’ football in Ulster began back in 1902 when the pupils of St Macartan’s, or the Sem as they were known, visited St Patrick’s. This led to an invite the following year from Fr Con Murphy of St Patrick’s, whose first love was soccer, to the Monaghan boys to play a challenge game against St Pat’s. The first winners were St Macartan’s on a score of 2-0. The last soccer game between the two schools took place 14 days before the Easter Rising in 1916, with the Monaghan team successful again on a 6-0 scoreline.
A change of mood in the country saw a vote taken among the students in St Patrick’s who decided that Gaelic football would now be the chosen game. The following year, 1918, saw the first Gaelic match played, with St Patrick’s the victors on a scoreline of 4-4 to 0-1, with the first point in the ‘new’ competition scored by Jack McKeever of Ardee. Delighted to hear of this was the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr MacRory, a past pupil of Armagh, who offered a cup for ‘competition among secondary schools in Ulster playing Gaelic’.
The cup however did not arrive in Armagh until 1923, with the first winners being the Armagh School and on November 21st 1923, the first game proper in the MacRory Cup was played between St Patrick’s, Armagh and St Macartan’s Monaghan, with the Armagh school becoming the first holders of the trophy.
To celebrate these events, the Ulster Schools GAA Committee has arranged a series of events during the year to mark this historic occasion. The first of these will be held on September 20th when the draws for the U-19 competitions, the MacRory Cup, MacLarnon Cup and Mageean Cup, will take place in St Patrick’s Grammar School Armagh.
This year, the winners of these competitions will receive specially designed centenary medals, designed by Sean McCrystal and fashioned by J.C. May (Belfast). All 34 schools involved in these competitions will be present with the draws carried out by Oonagh Murtagh, Head of South Business Centre from sponsors Danske Bank, and Ulster Schools Chairperson Jimmy Smyth.
Armagh will also be the venue on the 21st November, for a repeat of the St Patrick’s Armagh – St Macartan’s meeting in the Athletic Grounds, where, wearing retro jerseys to commemorate the occasion, both teams will be eager to win this historic encounter, with two vital MacRory Cup points up for grabs!
On 13th October, Cardinal MacRory will be remembered, as will Fr Tom Rafferty, the Hon Secretary, who ensured the smooth running of the fledgling competition, with plaques being placed on their graves by his Excellency, Archbishop Eamon Martin.
The Mageean Cup final is to be played in the Dub on Friday December 8th, and will be preceded by a talk on the history of the Mageean Cup in St Louis’s College, Ballymena, given by Seamas McAleenan.
With the MacRory Cup Final down for Sunday, 11th February, the MacLarnon Cup final will take place on the Friday before this, while on the previous night, Aidan Walsh, author of the excellent history “The MacRory Cup” will give a talk in Armagh on many famous games and incidents during the 100 years of the competition.
Is mise le meas,
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