Sean Kelly has given Antrim magnificent service in the past but was rather unlucky to miss out on their significant achievements this year when the Saffrons gained promotion into division three of the National League and then reached the Ulster Championship final.
But Kelly, forced some time ago to step aside from the county squad to pursue his teacher training course in England, is now hoping to gain a generous measure of compensation for his recent lack of action at a high level.
The experienced defender is very much at the nerve centre of St Gall’s bid to add the Ulster Club Championship title to their Antrim crown and on Sunday the 27-year-old long-serving clubman is set to lead the resistance against Armagh champions Pearse Og at Casement Park.
St Gall’s manager Lenny Harbinson, well aware that the Clarke brothers in particular — Ronan, |JJ and Conor — carry a considerable threat to his side, is anxious to ensure that his team’s defensive mechanism is fully operational.
“I have been told by my spies in Armagh that Pearse Og can vary their attacking ploys and that’s why the more experienced players in my defence like Sean, Colin Brady and Andrew McClean can help give a lead on Sunday,” says Harbinson, himself a former Antrim player.
With Sean Burke and C J McGourty certain to be in action for St Galls in the Antrim under-21 hurling semi-final against Dunloy tomorrow, Harbinson may now be forced to amend his projected starting line-up for Sunday’s contest.
While Burke lined out wearing the No 14 jersey for Antrim during the summer, he actually fulfilled a roving commission with Michael McCann more often than not pushed into a forward role from midfield.
Since sharing in Antrim’s spectacular summer campaign, Burke has helped St Galls win both the Antrim senior football championship title and the Ulster Intermediate Hurling crown — but as a midfielder.
McGourty’s accuracy from play and frees has been pronounced recently even though he is playing with a broken thumb at the minute.
It was a hard-earned preliminary round victory over Cavan Gaels at Kingspan Breffni Park which convinces Harbinson his side can now replicate their momentum against Pearse Og.
However, the Armagh side has county aces Paul Duffy and Ronan Clarke as key figures with Ciaran McKinney, the team captain, and 34-year-old Kieran Hughes helping to bring an additional element of experience to the table.
Ogs manager Brendan Hughes acknowledges that his steam did not quite scale the heights in their county final win over Harps but believes they are capable of better.
“We know we have to lift our game against St Gall’s.
“They are a very experienced team who are well used to winning and this means they will be doubly difficult to overcome.
“But we have belief in our own ability and if we can keep it tight defensively, then we will be in with a big chance,” insists Hughes.
But the all-round cohesion, craft and finishing power of the home side might ultimately see them progress into the last four.