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McKinless eyes fifth county title for Ballinderry

By John Campbell

Martin McKinless is aiming to seal his reputation as one of the best-ever managers in Ulster club football.

Under his baton, Ballinderry won the Derry senior football title in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012 and tomorrow he will bid to make it five titles in eight years for the lough shore side when they face Ballinascreen in the decider at Celtic Park (3.30pm).

McKinless was not in charge in 2007, 2009 and 2010 when Ballinderry fell short in the competition but right now the mood within his squad could hardly be more upbeat.

But McKinless is fully aware that Ballinascreen will bring an enviable portfolio to the table.

Impressive wins over Dungiven and Coleraine Eoghan Rua have bolstered their confidence and sharpened their appetite to claim what would be a prestigious scalp.

Ballinderry, though, will be bidding to make it a hat-trick of titles, their dominance of the Derry domestic scene having its roots in cohesion, craft, pace and scoring power.

However McKinless's line-up, a potent mixture of youth and experience, is taking nothing for granted.

Ballinascreen's surge into the decider has been highlighted by some particularly notable individual contributions and in this respect sharpshooter Benny Heron stands head and shoulders above his colleagues.

Heron has collated 6-16 in the competition including a stunning hat-trick of goals in the 3-6 to 1-6 semi-final replay win over Coleraine.

On current form, he is one of the outstanding forwards in the province and it's expected that he will be closely policed by the Ballinderry rearguard.

But while Ballinascreen can derive comfort from their voyage into the final, in Ballinderry they will be facing a side that has accounted for Newbridge, Glenullin, Kilrea and Lavey, their focus on a hat-trick cemented by this sequence of wins.

Versatility would appear to be the major plus-factor weighing in McKinless's favour.

Kevin McGuckin (33), a long-time defender, is currently playing alongside another veteran James Conway in midfield; Ryan Bell, although comfortable at midfield, is excelling at centrethreequarters; Michael McIver is in overdrive at wing-back and Conleith Gilligan is harvesting scores from a corner forward berth having given full rein to his talents on the '40' in the past .

And, of course, Ballinderry can introduce the evergreen Enda Muldoon depending on what course the game takes. The 36-year-old warhorse may have had his problems with injuries, but his commitment is unwavering and 20 minutes of his ball-winning skills and precise distribution could help tip the scales in the champions' favour once again.

Crossmaglen Rangers and Errigal Ciaran are the only two sides to have beaten Ballinderry in a decade of Ulster club action – a stark pointer as to the outcome of tomorrow's tussle.

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