St Gall's set sights on Uslter crown
Published 01/10/2013 | 01:30
Since 2004 Crossmaglen Rangers and St Galls have shared the Ulster club football championship title.
Only problem from the St Galls viewpoint is that they have taken delivery of the provincial prize just twice in that period (2005 and 2009) and that's a situation which skipper Sean Kelly feels must be addressed.
Kelly has shared in St Galls dominance of the Antrim senior championship for over a decade now but, apart from 2009 when both the Ulster and All-Ireland club titles were captured, feels they have not quite done themselves justice in the pursuit of the bigger prizes.
"While we are delighted to be Antrim champions once again we want to make a strong bid for the Ulster title," states schoolteacher Kelly.
"We feel we have the players and the approach to succeed but obviously when you look at the teams that are about to emerge from other counties you know that we face a very difficult job."
In overcoming Cargin in the Antrim final at the week-end, St Galls found themselves pushed to the pin of their collar by a side that has offered the biggest threat to their domestic authority over recent years.
Yet Kelly believes that his team's one-point victory in that game will help to steel the players for the rigours of the Ulster series.
"It was a game that demanded a lot from us and while it was terrific to come out with the right result, we have to try and take things to the next level for the Ulster club championship," adds Kelly.
"We know from past experienced how difficult matches in this competition can be when you go in against sides who have ambitions similar to ours."
A cultured wing-back who was brought back into the Antrim county set-up by manager Frank Dawson, Kelly's ability to read a game, cover intelligently and transform defence into attack quickly mark him down as one of the most complete players in the province.
His St Galls colleagues certainly rate their veteran skipper higher than ever right now as, like good wine, he simply improves with the passing years.
"Sean was immense against Cargin at the weekend. I could have watched him all day. He plays with great poise and authority – he is unreal," says long-serving forward Karl Stewart.
Kelly's experience and man-marking skills were certainly very much in evidence when he held Cargin's highly-rated Tómas McCann scoreless from play.
St Galls will commence their preparations for the Ulster club championship this week and the hope is that they will be at full strength for the competition.
"We have had a few injuries lately but we would like to have everyone on board if possible for the Ulster competition. We are very focussed on it," adds Stewart.
Even though they were forced to field without the suspended Sean Bourke and Kieran McGourty against Cargin, St Galls highlighted their considerable strength in depth.
Rory Wislon, Conor Burke and Jackson McGreevy, who captained Antrim in their recent All-Ireland U21 hurling final against Clare, got their first taste of a county final and came through with flying colours.
And the form of midfield ace Aodhan Gallagher has proved to be another major plus-factor.
St Galls officials will now monitor the closing stages of the Donegal championship as their Ulster club opponents will come from there.
With Ballinderry favourites to win the Derry title, Roslea looking good for a third Fermanagh title in four years, Crossmaglen Rangers on course for a 17th Armagh crown in 18 years and Burren in majestic form in Down, the Ulster club championship could prove particularly appealing.