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Belfast rivals set to clash in Schools’ Cup decider

Pictured at the launch of the 2019 Danske Bank Schools’ Cup Finals are team captains Patrick Burns, St Malachy’s College  and Calvin McCurry, De La Salle College Pictured at the launch of the 2019 Danske Bank Schools’ Cup Finals are team captains Patrick Burns, St Malachy’s College and Calvin McCurry, De La Salle College
By Paddy Tierney

NISFA U18 Schools’ Cup final
De La Salle v St Malachy’s (Monday, 12.30pm, Seaview)

DE La Salle are no strangers to winning silverware in and around St Patrick’s Day and they bid to add the NISFA U18 Schools’ Cup to their trophy cabinet at the expense of Belfast rivals, St Malachy’s at Seaview on Monday afternoon.

The West Belfast college annexed the Belfast Schools’ Cup (U16) last season with a commanding 4-0 win over Edmund Rice College and the majority of that squad make up this year’s U18 select.

The overwhelming majority of the panel also play together for St Oliver Plunkett at club level and manager Stephen Killyleagh says that continuity is a big asset for his side.

“The majority of the squad played in the U16 final last year,” said Mr Killyleagh.

“Most of the lads are playing at a good standard with their club anyway. We’ve a few lads with Cliftonville and most of the rest are from St Oliver Plunkett and they are playing in the big youth competitions with their clubs.

“Nothing really fazes them and they are a good bunch of level-headed kids. They will know what to expect.”

Those sentiments were echoed by vice-captain Sean McCullagh, who says the team are relishing the opportunity to go head-to-head with St Malachy’s in Monday’s decider.

“The majority of the team plays for Oliver Plunkett and we’ve a good bond within the team,” said McCullagh.

“We pull each other through the games and we work well together. We played in big games before with our clubs and the majority of the team played in last year’s U16 final, but nerves shouldn’t be an issue. It would be good to get a win over St Malachy’s and it should be a good game.”

Mr Killyleagh is also anticipating a tough challenge from St Malachy’s, but knows his side won’t lack in confidence having defeated a high-rated Belfast Metropolitan College outfit 3-2 in the semi-final.

“We’ve had a couple of tricky away matches in the campaign,” added Mr Killyleagh.

“We had to beat Holy Cross, Strabane and we beat Belfast Met in the semi-final. Even in the earlier rounds, we had a few good tests. We haven’t had it easy the whole way through the competition. The highlight was probably the semi-final win over Belfast Met – they are a good side.

“St Malachy’s are a good side and they’ve came through a few tricky games in the run up to the final as well. We haven’t played them in a few years in any competition, but they beat St Columb’s of Derry in the earlier rounds and they probably would have been the favourites at the start of the year.”

If the win over Belfast Met will have served as a confidence-booster for La Salle, St Malachy’s will feel as though lady luck is smiling on them this season having come through penalties on two occasions en-route to the final.

The aforementioned win over schools’ football standard-bearers, St Columb’s was secured via a 5-4 win on penalties after the sides drew 4-4.

The North Belfast college also needed penalties against rivals Edmund Rice and manager, Phil Molloy hopes those games will stand to his players ahead of Monday’s decider.

“We beat St Columb’s in the fourth round. We have come through two penalty shoot-outs,” reflected Mr Molloy.

“We beat St Columb’s on penalties (5-4) after drawing 4-4. We had penalties again in the quarter-final against our local rivals Edmund Rice.

“La Salle played Belfast Met in the semi-final and they would be very strong.

“Any one of six or seven teams could have made the final and our lads know that opportunities like this don’t come around very often.

“The last time we won this competition was back in 2004 and all the lads are hungry for silverware. At this point, it is just about making sure the boys are injury free and if we go into the game and we have everybody fit, it has the makings of a good game.”

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