Sunday Times Secondary School of the Year 2023

St. Mary's Grammar School

MacRory Cup Celebration

The Tullyglass House Hotel, Ballymena was the setting for a celebration of St. Mary’s Grammar School’s 2022 MacRory Cup win.  The event took place on the evening of Wednesday 27 April with BBC Sports Journalist, Thomas Niblock, as Master of Ceremonies.  Players and team management were joined by parents/guardians, members of staff and members of the Board of Governors to reflect on the team’s journey to success this year and to applaud their achievement. 

In his address, Mr Dunlop, Principal, said: “It’s just over 10 weeks since the full-time whistle confirmed St. Mary’s second MacRory Cup victory and I know that the date of 13 February 2022 will be etched in the hearts and minds of this team, their management and, indeed, many of us for a lifetime.  It is fitting that we should gather tonight to celebrate this team’s remarkable achievement, congratulate them on their win and thank them for the memories they have created for the whole St. Mary’s community.   

I was recently asked what I would remember most about the 2022 MacRory Cup team and, for me, so many attributes characterised this group of players: drive, discipline, humility and good humour.  But the most defining quality for me was their unwavering self-belief that they could lift the trophy this year. 

When they began the campaign back in November with a game against St. Patrick’s, Armagh in Eglish, this group of players and their management did so with the belief that they could bring MacRory glory to St. Mary’s again this year.  That belief remained steadfast throughout the competition and strengthened with every game they won, particularly the matches against St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon in the quarter-final and Omagh Christian Brothers in the semi-final. 

Going into the final against Holy Trinity College, Cookstown, the boys did not underestimate the challenge, but they had the belief, the courage and determination that they could trump their opponents. 

And they were right to hold on to their self-belief, proving that when you believe in yourself, anything is possible. 

Despite their confidence in what they could achieve, these boys never became complacent.  They never assumed that victory would be theirs but rather knew what they needed to do, individually and collectively, on the pitch and off the pitch, to achieve their dream of a MacRory Cup win.  Their belief in themselves as a team was complemented by their commitment to an intense training schedule developing skill, fitness, strength, strategy and teamwork so that they could bring the very best version of themselves to every game.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that the self-belief of this team made them unbeatable.  And others believed in them too.  Throughout the competition, this St. Mary’s team impressed with their ability and their focus.  As I was leaving the grounds of O’Donovan Rossa in Ardboe after the game against St. Patrick’s Academy, I fell into step with a player from the 2017 team.  And his words to me on that day affirmed my belief that this team could win the competition.  He said: “That’s a great team.  They would have beaten us.”    

The MacRory team of 2017 made history when they brought the MacRory Cup to St. Mary’s for the first time.  That will always be their legacy.  But the legacy of this team will be that they have established the trend, proving that St. Mary’s investment in Gaelic games, coupled with club and county work, is yielding players and teams of the highest calibre, making future sporting success inevitable.  And just as this group of players were inspired by the 2017 squad, they have provided our younger players and teams with the inspiration and the belief that they too can one day enjoy MacRory Cup success.    

There is no doubt that these players are among the finest young sportsmen in this country and while we hold the view that they are all sporting stars, I want to offer a special word of congratulations to Conhuir Johnston and Niall O’Donnell whose sporting prowess has been recognised in this year’s Ulster Colleges Football All Star Awards.

After the difficulties of the past two years and the impact of the pandemic on school life as we knew it, this year’s MacRory competition contributed so much to St. Mary’s.  It created a buzz of excitement and anticipation around the school and, after two years of social distancing, it brought the school community together again … safely, of course! 

I know that the team and the management greatly appreciate the support provided by the whole school community, particularly during the semi-final and final stages of the competition.  Such support helped to motivate the team because they knew that a win would please a great many people, not just themselves.  And so I want to thank the whole school community for its support of this MacRory team.  Governors, staff, parents, pupils and sponsors – you all played your part in making 2022 a momentous sporting year for St. Mary’s. 

I would also like to acknowledge the work of Danske Bank and the Ulster Schools’ GAA in organising, promoting and supporting this prestigious sporting competition.  We are delighted that Mr Sean McGourty, Treasurer of Ulster Schools, has joined us for our celebration this evening.  

Underpinning the success of this team was the expert influence and guidance of three men who bring a wealth of sporting experience to St. Mary’s – Mr Kevin Brady, Mr Ronan Devlin and Mr John McElholm.  These men gave of their time after school, at weekends, during school holidays and in all weathers to train, coach and inspire this team to perform at the highest level of sporting excellence, often making personal sacrifices along the way.  I want to thank them most sincerely for their time, their dedication, their expertise and their motivation to make this team the best that they could be. 

Finally, I want to thank this group of fine young men for bringing the MacRory Cup back to St. Mary’s.  Boys, you have all excelled this year but many of you have still to reach your peak.  This is a team filled with the club and county stars of the future and, while we congratulate you on your MacRory win this evening, we also look forward to your continued sporting growth and future success.  Well done.”