Not too many players in any code under the GAA banner have the opportunity to play in three major finals in a matter of weeks.
But the versatile 18-year-old Blaine Ryan is not your average club player who shows off his talents away from the spotlight.
When they play with Holy Trinity College Cookstown in the Danske Bank Ulster Colleges MacRory Cup final on Sunday, they will be playing in their third decisive game in a few weeks.
Helping his club Moortown St Malachy’s win the Tyrone Intermediate Football Championship title, Ryan’s physical power and aerial ability in midfield proved a key factor in his side’s success.
But when County Representatives Red Hand went up against Derry Steelstown kingpins Brian Og in the Ulster Championship final last month, it was the Maiden City side who prevailed in a tense and robust (0-6 to 0-4) in which the emphasis was on uncompromising defense rather than sophisticated attacking flair.
Now Ryan, man of the match in the Tyrone final, hopes to help set the tone for what he hopes will be an accomplished performance from Holy Trinity College on Sunday that will help the team take delivery of college football’s blue ribbon of Ulster for the first time.
To achieve this, they will have to overcome a team from St Mary’s GS, Magherafelt who won the trophy in 2017 and not hide their desire to regain possession.
Ryan embodies the enthusiasm, even the passion, of the side of the Holy Trinity, but his feet nevertheless remain firmly planted on the ground.
“We’ve been underdogs in our games so far but we’ve always believed in ourselves and hopefully that will hold us on Sunday. I’ve seen first hand what belief has done for Moortown and I would really love to see Holy Trinity get their hands on the MacRory Cup for the first time on Sunday,” Ryan said.
His input in the middle third of the pitch will no doubt prove crucial, as will the finishing skills of Shea Lawn and Shea Quinn up front.
And joint skippers Callan Kelly and Ruairi McHugh will also have an important role to play in helping Cookstown’s apprenticeship headquarters run.
McHugh said: “It’s a huge game for us and we can’t wait to get on the pitch. We’ve gotten used to not being tagged as favourites, but the spirit and hunger of our team is such that we’re going to give it our all.
Gaelic football is not so much played as worshiped within the gates of Holy Trinity College. With Tyrone legend Peter Canavan leading an impressive list of GAA luminaries among the teaching staff, it’s no surprise that football and sport in general is a key part of the staple diet. from school.
With Canavan and John McKeever having led their team past the likes of Abbey CBS Newry and St Patrick’s College, Maghera, who both possess substantial pedigrees in the competition, to get to the decider, there is now an all-consuming fervent hope that the the summit can be reached by mid-afternoon on Sundays.
Certainly, Coach McKeever thinks his team is capable of pointing out his finishing qualities.
“We focused on the semi-final and took our scoring chances when they came and that’s exactly what we need to do on Sunday,” said McKeever, who is now the Portglenone club’s new manager. .
But St Mary’s, Magherafelt aren’t exactly hiding their light under a bushel. They too have admirable firepower and an all-encompassing work ethic that has supported them on their way to the decision maker.
Their pace and creativity have served them well so far, with Ryan McEldowney, Ruairi Forbes, Conhuir Johnston and Niall O’Donnell in particular having left their mark on the competition.
St Mary’s skipper Eoin McEvoy, while obviously thrilled to lead his school to the MacRory Cup final, is well aware of the commitment and desire that Holy Trinity will bring to the table.
“They have performed very well in the competition so far and they will have gained confidence from that. They may have been seen as underdogs in some games but they showed real quality in winning them. Obviously, they will be very motivated for Sunday’s match because they will want to mark their first appearance in the finals with a victory,” said McEvoy.
“From our point of view, it all depends on the team. While individual introductions are important, it’s the team ethic and work pace that counts for everything in our book.
It’s a safe bet that the Tyrone and Derry Under-20 management teams will be out in force to take a collective look at what will be a proverbial galaxy of young footballing talent.
It’s safe to say that all of the players on duty on Sunday are unknowns at the moment, but I have a strong feeling that many of them could become household names of the future.