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DRUMRAGH INTEGRATED COLLEGE MAKE ULSTER SCHOOLS' GAA HISTORY

Drumragh have become the first Integrated School to reach the FINAL of the GAA Danske Bank JJ Reilly Cup with a 1-12 to 2-6 victory over Saint Patrick's Lisburn.

 

WHEN the referee blew for full-time in the Meadowbank Sports’ Arena in Magherafelt on Thursday afternoon last, he was probably not aware that a little bit of Ulster schools’ GAA history had taken place.

Halfway through the second half of the Danske Bank JJ Reilly Cup semi-final, St Patrick’s, Lisburn looked to be on course for a spot in the final.

However, a goal from Eoin Gallagher turned the tide and helped Drumragh Integrated from Omagh seal a 1-12 to 2-6 victory. That result meant that Drumragh are the first school from the integrated sector to reach an Ulster Schools’ GAA final and Head of PE and coach to the team, Conor Gallagher, is delighted.

“It’s great to see progress through the course of a competition and to reach a provincial final is fantastic for the team and the school,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher is a former MacRory Cup player with nearby Omagh CBS and has been teaching, and coaching, in the 660-pupil college since it was established two decades ago.

“We promote a number of sports here – soccer, Gaelic football, rugby, athletics, netball, hockey, cross country – but in terms of Gaelic football, participation in external competitions has been patchy.

“For a start we may not have the numbers in a particular year group to field a full team. Sometimes we would have more in that age-group who play rugby and therefore we would concentrate on rugby development with them.

“We have regularly participated in Gaelic football blitzes that the like of Tony Scullion from Ulster GAA Council organised for the integrated sector.

“But really we would only have played in Tyrone Vocational schools’ competitions on an irregular basis – although we did reach an U16 B final a few years ago, and that was a landmark.”

The school has made use of the Tyrone GAA Development coaches, with triple All-Ireland medallist Conor Gormley doing a 10-week programme last year and Angie McShane due for another programme in the New Year, concentrating more on girls’ football.

Teaching and coaching in the school as well are respected club coaches Damian Connolly from Clogher and Eamon Duncan from the local Sarsfield’s club. They are in charge of the U14 team which defeated St Patrick’s, Bearnageeha 12-3 to 8-11 in the quarter-final of Danske Bank Corn Mac Neasa.

However the re-alignment of all second level Gaelic games under the banner of Ulster Schools’ during the summer opened more doors for Drumragh and other “smaller schools” in the GAA sense.

“In Tyrone vocational terms, there was quite a number of strong teams, even small secondary schools had quite a few strong players. So it was difficult for the likes of us to make any headway,” claimed Conor

“This term we have played (and won) four games, all at our own level – against the likes of Dominican, Portstewart, Erne Integrated, and St Patrick’s, Lisburn. From a coaching point of view it is great to be involved in a competition where you can see real improvement.”

Because of the diverse backgrounds of the players, it is no surprise that many of them do not play for club, although Conor, who has just finished his third season as senior team manager of the local Drumragh Sarsfield’s club, is active enough in encouraging them to join.

“Yes, we have about four or five of this starting team that don’t have a club and certainly I would like to see them in the Sarsfield’s colours – or with any club in the local area.”

The team’s opponents for the final are very familiar to them as they beat neighbours St John’s, Dromore in their first game this year.

Drumragh Integrated’s Zach Sloane McCusker missed that game, as did several St John’s players as they were involved with the St Dympna’s club in a county U16 championship game.

“Yeah Zach plays with them at club level and we have played them already.

“Having beaten St John’s I suppose is a help in the sense that the boys have nothing to fear, but we will need to play a lot better than we did that day if we are to get our name first on the new cup.”

Win or lose in the final ahead of them Drumragh are the GAA trail-blazers for the Integrated sector.

 

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