Down minor captain Seamus Grant, who missed their All-Ireland semi-final win over DLS Macroom because of an appendix operation, returns for the Newry College’s first decider.
Team coach Jody Gormley accepts that the Leinster champions, who are chasing their fourth title in six years, are clear favourites.
“If we are to have any chance on Monday, we’ll need to get off to a good start. In the semi-final it took us quite a while to settle and while we played some great football throughout the game, we lost our way towards the end and were hanging on to win.
“We cannot afford a repeat of that. We’ll be severely punished if we do. Having Seamus Grant back is a big boost to us and he’ll certainly add a bit more punch to the team.
“Our form to the final has been up and down. It took a last minute goal to see off the challenge of St. Louis (Kilkeel) in the McRory Cup final (Ulster championship).
“We showed a bit of steel in hanging in there when the pressure came, but it was a bit too close for comfort. It was a similar situation in the All-Ireland semi-final where we again were forced to defend in the closing minutes to secure the win. Thankfully, we have no injuries and there is an air of anticipation, particularly among our supporters, that we can create history by winning the Hogan Cup for the first time.”
The one thing the Abbey won’t be lacking is experience. They will field a team that includes six Down minors, two Armagh minors and an Armagh U21 player. They play a typical Down brand of fast, free flowing football, and, apart from Grant, include a number of outstanding players in Cathal Murdoch, Kevin Dyas, Rory Cunningham and Kevin McKernan.
St Pats will be favourites. They won the Hogan Cup on three occasions since the beginning of the new millennium, 2001, 2002 and 2004.
“We’ve had a tremendous run and proud of our achievements over the last half a dozen years,” said team mentor PJ O’Reilly, “and hopefully we can continue in that vein.”
“The school is huge and we are attracting pupils from a wide area, which gives us a good crop of young footballers, all very keen on the game.
“Our Leinster campaign was relatively easy. We beat Athlone Community School in the final and then ousted St Marys (Galway), a team highly rated, in the All-Ireland semis.
“We got off to a great start against them and never took the foot off the pedal. We’re very happy with the way the team is performing up to now, but Monday’s final is the real big test for us. The Abbey are a very big team with quite a number of very good players. This will be the first meeting between the schools, so it’s difficult to know how it will pan out. Shane O’Rourke came back from Australia last week injury free. He is the only surviving member of the 2004 winning team, and is our captain. He is also the son of Colm our coach.
“Our team is nicely balanced with a very good set of forwards, and if we can play as well as we did in the semi-final, we’ll be in there with a shout.”
St. Pats will include Shane Carr, whose father Paddy played with the Donegal seniors, Shane O’Rourke who is a very good centre back, Mark McCabe, Sean Keating and Brian Sheridan, younger brother of county senior Joe, and, while they will start slight favourites, they will have to be at their very best and maybe a bit more if they are to deny the Ulster champions their first title at this level.
The game is live on TG4.