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Ballinderry ace McIver set for battle with Clonoe

By Declan Bogue

Once Ballinderry Shamrocks had beaten Ballinascreen to win their third consecutive Derry Championship, a friend of Michael McIver's sent him a text message.

This friend, from Ballinascreen no less, had watched McIver's goal knock the fight from the 'Screen, and so he rattled it off: 'Well done, now look forward to the Ulster club when two Tyrone clubs meet.'

So much of the Ballinderry experience is wrapped up in that anecdote, seasoned by a joke with a jag.

It speaks of the enduring excellence of the Shamrocks club, that their parish straddles the Tyrone and Derry borders and the sheer claustrophobia of the Loughshore Gaelic football scene.

You could draw a line from Ballinderry, 12 miles away to tomorrow's Ulster preliminary round opponents Clonoe (Celtic Park, 3.30pm), and come within the radars of Moortown, Ardboe, Derrylaughan, Derrytresk and Brockagh clubs. And of course there is Naomh Colum Cille for hurling aficionados.

"A lot of our people would watch the Tyrone Championship," explains McIver (pictured).

His father, Derry manager Brian, is a proud Tyrone man who played his club football with Ardboe.

"At any of our matches you would see Ardboe and Moortown men. Probably a lot of slagging and banter, boys that work together," he says.

Many regions claim that Gaelic football is a form of religion round those parts – in Ballinderry's case, McIver reveals how it forms part of the religious ritual.

"You go to mass and all the talk on the way in through the door and out through the door is football!"

He adds: "There is nothing else around home! It's a cultural thing with us, there are a lot of older men around the club such as Patrick McGuckin, Adrian McGuckin, Dessie Ryan and all the talk is football."

Dessie Ryan. Now there's a name for you. You will have heard it before as one of the architects of Ulster football in the new century due to his work as coach of Queen's Sigerson teams.

Before all that, he was the Ballinderry manager in the early '80s who won three-in-a-row.

Well, sort of. They took the John McLaughlin Cup home after beating Dungiven to seal the treble in '82 but a few days later the county board came-a-callin'. The game was too feisty for some and that Championship was cast into the lost dimension of the GAA appeals world, before being restored to the Shamrocks in 2006.

Ryan is back now as a selector, although times have changed.

McIver shares another Loughshore football yarn.

"Kevin Wilkinson would tell stories of Dessie Ryan's training in the '80s. Running without the ball and tackling for hours, training to half ten, eleven at nights.

"If you kept men out from eight o'clock to half ten now, there would be men not coming back!"

Ballinderry had men crazed with football, such as the McGuckins who would coach underage. That flow has continued uninterrupted to today.

When McIver was in college, he used to take the likes of 'Sucky' Bell, Darren Lawn and Gareth McKinless for under-12s. Now he is winning Championships with them.

On weekend mornings, Conleith Gilligan and Ronan McGuckin will supervise underage coaching. McGuckin you might recall took a leave of absence after he led Errigal Ciaran to a Tyrone title last year and couldn't face managing them against Ballinderry in Ulster, stepping aside for a game.

In the Ballinderry gym, 'Mickey C' urges on the younger players, showing them good practise, setting an example. It's an atmosphere geared towards excellence.

McIver's form this season has been excellent. It's testament to his determination after missing the 2012 Derry Championship with a hernia injury.

He came back this year strongly enough that it earned an invite from his father to rejoin the Derry panel. He fancied it right enough, but hadn't been involved in county football since the 2008 season, when Derry won the National League.

When he thought seriously about it, he couldn't go out five nights a week and leave two wee baby boys at home.

"It's an awful big commitment to play club football," he explains, "but at least in club football the pitch is only a couple of minutes away whereas if you are going to Owenbeg, it's a journey away and the nights you are not training it's strength and conditioning, core work or meetings."

The oddest thing was having to say no to his father. The last time he had played for him was as a schoolboy in a successful St Pius' Magherafelt team.

"I would have loved to have gone back, but I know that I just couldn't have committed and if I wasn't able to go every night, then I wouldn't have wanted to pick and choose my nights and couldn't have done that in front of other boys."

If he is asked again, his answer won't change. There is only one team he can commit to. And they have a chance to put a few things right in the Ulster Club Championship.

"There are some boys in our panel that have an Ulster medal but we feel we have underachieved," he explains.

"There are a lot of boys in the panel who don't have their Ulster medal yet and Clonoe not being too far up the road from us, we know how good an outfit they are."

He finishes by pointing out that while Clonoe manager Damian Cassidy will know all about Ballinderry given his past with Bellaghy, they also know plenty about Clonoe.

That's the way the scene is on the Loughshore. Cheek by jowl. Too close for comfort.

Belfast Telegraph

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