The Hogan Cup has been the Holy Grail for St Michael’s teams down through the years and in April they finally got their hands on it as they saw off Naas CBS on a memorable day in Croke Park.

Dom Corrigan has been to the fore of GAA in St Michael’s for 20 years, helping the school land five MacRory Cups but they could never quite take that final step to an All Ireland - until this year.

“We always said it would be great to win a Hogan Cup and it was always something that was there in the distance and I suppose you think that maybe you would never get there but eventually we found a way to get across the line,” commented Corrigan.

The thing that surprised Corrigan the most though about the victory was the joy and goodwill that the victory brought throughout the county.

“I didn’t realise myself what it meant to people until we had the thing won. Going up town in Enniskillen for a cup of coffee you would be stopped and there was sheer delight in people’s faces. There was old ladies coming up to me that I didn’t know and they were shaking hands and congratulating us.

“For St Michael’s and those immediately involved, there was obvious delight but, as I say, what surprised me was that the victory would mean as much to so many.”

That joy was there for all to see when the team arrived back in Enniskillen from Dublin with the cup in tow to be met by large crowds having lined the street.

“Taking it back into Enniskillen with Brandon Horan and Mark McGoldrick stepping off the bus with the Hogan Cup for the first time was particularly special. To see the great crowds that were there, the joy and happiness that it brought, that is the power of sport and we saw it at first hand.”

St Michael’s success came during a real purple patch for Fermanagh sport with Ballinamallard progressing to an Irish Cup final and Enniskillen rugby club going on to land the Towns’ Cup and Dom feels that sporting success such as this is greeted in Fermanagh like no other county.

“When any Fermanagh team gets on a roll, the support and the goodwill that goes with it is unique to Fermanagh and it is a massive energy giver to the teams at whatever level. We had support from all sections of the community, as did Skins and Ballinamallard. It was a special time for Fermanagh sport,you also had the Fermanagh senior team pushing for promotion to Division One and everybody was supporting each other which I think is something that Fermanagh people should be very proud of. I was there on Irish Cup final day along with Mark Henry and Pat Blake cheering on Harry’s Ballinamallard side,” he said.

The Mallards lost out on that day but as Corrigan explains, the memories will always be there.

“Often sport is not about getting cups, it is about the journey and just because you lose a final that doesn’t demean that achievement of getting there in any way at all and the memories of getting there will always be special.”

St Michael’s own journey that ultimately ended with victory in Croke Park began with them topping their group in the league stages but a heavy defeat to Omagh in the McCormack Cup semi final provided some valuable lessons for the side.

“The thing about sport is that if you get a defeat along the way you can learn more from it and it grounds you. Obviously, you have to have that setback at the right time which we did. Look at South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, they lost to the All Blacks but came back from that to win it.

“We were well grounded after Omagh gave us a lesson but we picked up well from that and the boys realised we weren’t at the level we thought we were at. I suppose that’s what journeys are like, we got a few games against some quality southern opposition including Naas, who we played in the All Ireland final, and those games we played between the McCormack Cup semi-final and the MacRory Cup stood us in great stead.”

That quarter final saw St Michael’s come up against Abbey CBS, a game they were big favourites in, but they had to dig deep to come out the other end.

“I thought getting over the Abbey was a huge test of our character as we went in as massive favourites. We were hit with an ambush but we came through it and maybe we got a wee bit of luck which is something that any successful side enjoy,” he said.

And then it was on to a meeting with the competition favourites, St Patrick’s Maghera in Loughmacrory.

“On any journey you are going to come up against a crunch game that is really going to test your mettle and if you get over it then it does wonders for the team and I think that win over Maghera did wonders for the team. They had Bellaghy players who won an Ulster Minor Club title and they were well fancied and it was another game that could have gone either way but the character and the resilience shone through.

“We talk about big moments in games and in this one we had Garrett Cavanagh’s block at the end, that would have taken it to extra time and the momentum would have been with Maghera,” he said.

Corrigan also felt his bench played a huge role in that win.

“The impact of the bench was crucial. We had four or five players who came on and I remember Garvan Quigley coming on and hitting a brilliant point to equalise. We were blessed with boys on the bench who had a wonderful attitude, they bought into the team ethic in that everybody is important and when they came on they made a massive impact.”

And then it was on a final clash with Omagh CBS and a chance to put right the wrongs of that McCormack Cup semi-final loss which they did in style.

Darragh McBrien ran the Omagh defence ragged, captain Brandon Horan was a colossus at midfield while Josh Largo Elis was superb at the back.

“The good thing about our players is that they are really big game players and the bigger the game and the bigger the stage, the better they are. Darragh McBrien is one who just relished that occasion. Some players go into that high pressure environment and freeze but the good thing about these lads was that the more pressure and the more cameras on them the better they are.” St Michael’s blitzed Omagh in the second half and although the Tyrone school hit back after the interval, St Michael’s regained the upperhand to push on for the win.

Strong all over the pitch, what maybe gave this St Michael’s team their edge as the season progressed was the triple threat of McBrien, Conor Love and Micheál Glynn in attack.

“In Darragh, Micheál and Conor we had three scoring forwards and that was great because on any given day one or maybe two could be off but it would be rare that you get the three of them off. Every team has good man markers but not often they have three so it made us dangerous,” he added.

And so the journey continued, with the next stop, Pearse Park in Longford for a game against St Colman’s Claremorris, the Connacht champions in an All Ireland semi final and Corrigan stresses that it wasn’t hard to get his players refocused.

“What I said to them after the MacRory was that you have done what six or seven other teams in St Michael’s have done so lets go on a path where nobody else has gone before.

“An important thing was that we played the big schools in the south during the year and we knew that we were as good as them and on the day we just had to produce a performance,” he stated.

Indeed, St Michael’s came blazing out of the blocks again to open a commanding early lead but when Claremorris hit back before half time it was time for that character to again come through.

“We were wonderful early on, the boys were playing flamboyant attacking football and I think we raced into a 2-05 to 0-01 lead but Claremorris were an outstanding team and they had their period to comeback at us. It was a case of getting them in at half time and get them settled again.

“We knew we had played well for most of the first half and it was a case of getting back at it. It was a serious contest against a serious team and again we had players that stood up. The team showcased their talent and having the confidence to do that on the big stage was a big thing about this team.”

St Michael’s did regain their composure in the second half and in the end ran out six point victors to send them through to a clash with Naas CBS in the final at Croke Park.

There was high excitement around the whole school in the week leading up to the final while Corrigan feels that this achievement would not have been possible without the support of the school and sponsor Pat Blake.

“The most important people in this whole thing is our principal Mark Henry, our vice principal Cathal O’Connor and the senior management team. They allowed us to create this environment here where football is so important and I could not speak highly enough of them. They were brilliant and a central piece in the overall jigsaw as was sponsor Pat Blake who has been with us now for 15 years and his contribution during that time and most especially in the past year was significant to the ultimate glory in Croke Park on April 6.”

So, it was on to the final stop in the journey, Croke Park, a venue Corrigan was sure would suit his players.

“I had a team that was blessed with serious pace and I knew this particular team could really showcase their qualities in Croke Park. Some teams are suited to Croke Park and some players are suited to it and I knew the confidence that with the boys showed in the Ulster final and with the pace and the quality they have, that Croke Park was going to be a friendly place for them. Thankfully, it worked out like that.”

This was a real tight battle but a tough run of games to get them to this stage really stood to them according to Corrigan.

“We knew we were in a real battle but we also knew the quality we had and we had the mental toughness too that you get from coming through tough battles. We beat Abbey by a point, we beat Maghera by a point, we beat Omagh by four, we beat Claremorris after a tough game so every game was a battle and by the time we got to the final we were battle hardened.

We played some wonderful attacking football but we also defended superbly.

“We were hanging on in the end but those battles stood to us and over the course of the game I thought we deserved our win.”

So what was the overriding emotion when the final whistle went?

“Total relief, that finally we have got this monkey off the back.”

And Corrigan expects to see a lot more of these lads in the green of Fermanagh in the years ahead.

“I’m going to see a number of these boys playing for their county very soon and they are going to be massive additions.

“I think Fermanagh football is in a brilliant place and I’m very positive about things moving forward. I see a lot of talent coming through and I definitely think we are travelling in the right direction,” he concluded.