St Mary’s CBGS aiming to recapture Mageean glory days after a hat-trick of hurling titles this term

The dream is that the 2023/24 academic year will be a pivotal moment in the proud sporting history of St Mary’s CBGS in the heart of West Belfast.

A hat-trick of Ulster Schools hurling ‘A’ titles rest proudly in the trophy cabinet, a reminder of a remarkable season of success on the pitch.

They have annexed the Year 9 McNamee Cup, the Year 10 Gallagher Cup and the Year 11 Leonard Cup this season. Incoming school principal Brendan McComb feels the silverware is just reward for the commitment and dedication of the coaches and the players.

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“The success we’ve had this year is a testament to the huge commitment from our coaches and our pupils,” said McComb.

“After Covid, there was a reset button hit. You had Tony Austin and Dermot McVeigh with the Year 11 team, Conor Hynds, our head of PE, with the Year 10 side and Paddy Cunningham with the Year nine squad. Kevin Herron also does great work with all the teams, helping out and producing match reports for our website.

“What they’ve started to do recently is get the kids in at 7.45am in the morning in huge numbers. We appealed to the parents to get them in early. We find it suits the parents too.

“We have a training session then we put on a nutritious breakfast for them in the canteen. The team can eat together and they are showing great responsibility by cleaning the canteen afterwards. They are real role models within the school for showing that commitment to the early-morning sessions.”

Mr McComb is no stranger to sporting success himself. A talented dual player for his native Lámh Dhearg, he won an Antrim and Ulster Junior hurling medals in 2016 before winning an Antrim SFC title with the Hannahstown men a year later.

Now in his 16th year at St Mary’s, he will succeed the school’s outgoing principal Siobhan Kelly, who is retiring along with the current vice principal Fiona Crookes.

Mr McCombs revealed his own aspirations for the school in the coming years and they include more than just winning titles on the pitch.

“We have very ambitious plans for the future,” he stated.

“In the last year or so, we finished the development of our ball wall facility.

“That allowed our pupils on hone their hurling skills on that on a daily basis. We have plans and funding approved for a brand new state-of-the-art sports hall.

“During my principalship that will come to fruition. We are hugely excited about that. It will tailor for the needs of our pupils and staff and also the local community.

"There are a number of teams who use our 3G and grass pitches and our ball. They will also have access to our new sports hall as well. We want to have another generation of GAA stars coming through St Mary’s to emulate the current crop of Antrim players.

“I don’t think there is another school in the county that has the same number of past pupils on the hurling and football teams that we have currently.

“Hurlers Gerard Walsh, Caolan and Dan McKernan, Michael and Aaron Bradley and Stephen Rooney all came here as did Antrim footballers Declan Lynch and Marc Jordan from my own club, Paddy McBride, who recently made his 100th appearance for Antrim as well as Dominic McEnhill, Conor Hands and Cormac McGettigan.”

The next logical step for St Mary’s is to try and harness the talent that is evident within the lower age grades and build a squad capable of winning back the Mageean Cup - Ulster Schools’ Senior Hurling Championship.

As the most successful side in the history of the prestigious competition with 28 titles, there is a burden of expectation on St Mary’s each year, but they haven’t won the Mageen since the 2016/17 school year.

However, they also have hopes of reviving the long-term fortunes of St Mary’s in football as well. Currently, there are no Antrim colleges competing at MacRory Cup level and Mr McComb wants that to change.

“We are a school with huge sporting traditions,” he added.

“Over the next couple of years, we want to see us back in Mageean finals and winning Mageean finals. We want to continue to develop winning squads year-on-year.

“We also want to develop our Gaelic football - we haven’t been competitive at the levels we aspire to. During my principalship, I want to see us return a successful MacLarnon team, which we haven’t done in a number of years. Then, we want to return to MacRory football - that’s the ultimate aim.

“We are looking to work with local clubs to achieve that and also with Gaelfast to see what additional support is there for us.

“Other counties have brought in roles for Gaelic Games development officers and things like that - maybe that’s something we could explore in the future.”

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