Ballinderry eye big prize
Ballinderry manager Martin McKinless believes that the influence of skipper Conor Nevin can prove a major factor in bringing the team into the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Nevin, virtually unknown outside the club at the start of their Derry Championship campaign, has emerged as an inspirational leader as Ballinderry bid to replicate their 2002 national triumph.
But while McKinless harbours high ambitions, his feet remain firmly on the ground as he puts the finishing touches to his plans for Sunday's quarter-final against Kingdom Kerry Gaels in London.
It's a match which the Ballinderry boss labels "a banana skin" for his side even though they will enter the fray as cast-iron favourites.
"I know people are talking us up but we will be playing on the pitch at Ruislip which is rather more compact than those to which we are accustomed and we will have to become acclimatised to it quickly," points out McKinless.
"We can't afford to be in the least complacent but I am confident that Conor Nevin will again set the right example.
"He has been superb in his role as skipper and has been going about his duties in a quiet, efficient manner which has earned him the respect of all the other players.
"While we maybe have a few high-profile players, we are fortunate to have the likes of Conor at the helm. He gets on with the job and has been the essence of consistency."
Nevin will again have a key role at the heart of the defence on Sunday as Ballinderry seek to embellish their recent winning streak that has seen them lift both the Derry and Ulster titles in comprehensive fashion.
Yet in the Ulster club final against Kilcoo, Ballinderry required all their defensive skills to keep the Down champions at bay and once again they relied on a big input from their substitutes to get over the line.
Nevin has been a rock at full-back, the defence built around his commanding presence.
"While we do not know an awful lot about Kingdom Kerry Gaels, we do know that the standard of football in London has improved of late and we are expecting a stern test no matter what people might think," maintains McKinless.
With Gareth McKinless having surged into the limelight because of his towering performances at centre-half-back and Michael McIver dovetailing effectively between defence and attack – he has scored a goal in each of the last two games – Ballinderry have added a fresh dimension to their game which is serving them well.
Kevin McGuckin and James Conway will again come together at midfield while Collie Devlin, Ryan Bell and Conleith Gilligan will be key figures in attack.
Club PRO Cillian Conlan endorses the manager's opinion that skipper Nevin's combative spirit and pride in his role have had much to do with Ballinderry's progress to date.
"We have been pushed to the pin of our collar in a couple of games and it was generally Conor who provided the inspiration that helped to take us through," reflects Conlan, brother of long-serving goalkeeper Michael.
"A lot of people might think that the captain is just a figurehead in any side with no real role but I can assure you that is not the case with us.
"We are just delighted to have Conor in such fine form and setting such a magnificent example to the boys around him.
"He has taken delivery of two trophies to date and now the big hope is that he will be able to lead the side to All-Ireland club glory.
"We were there before in 2002 when Brian McIver was in charge and ever since then we have wanted to become the top club in Ireland once again.
"That's a vision that is burning bright just now but our focus is totally on Sunday's game.
"We would be very foolish indeed to take our eye off the ball."