Belfast Telegraph

Brannigan warns high-flying Newcastle to remain grounded

By Martin Mawhinney

Ciaran Brannigan may be enjoying life at the moment as his Newcastle side reign supreme at the top of the heap in Division 1B, but he knows just how quickly all the glory can be snatched away.

Last season, in his first full campaign in charge of the club, the boys in black and white stripes set off in similar fashion, only to fall in the second half of the term, with a terrible run of form that saw them drop out of the top two promotion places.

This time around, Newcastle are a full ten points ahead of second placed East Belfast, and although they have several games in hand, the fact that they have already won ten games, drawn one and lost only one, will give him and his side plenty of hope that there can be a happy ending to this season.

The 27-year-old player-manager told The Park: “It’s so far, so good… similar to last season, but we are seven points better off at this stage.

“We were going grand last year up until Christmas, then something just happened. It’s hard to explain how you can be 2-0 up against Saintfield and 2-1 up against Holywood, and the games end up finishing 3-2 to Saintfield and 3-3. Those were the two teams that ended up getting relegated.

“But the title is a genuine aim for this season. Last year, I always believed we didn’t have enough to do it. This year, the players are doing what they are meant to do.

“There are boys who can ping the ball 40 or 50 yards, which is all fair and well, but it’s all about doing the things you are good at. The problems start when you try to do things that you’re not so good at.”

Another major problem with the tail end of Newcastle’s title charge last season came from the involvement of a large number of players in Gaelic football. Brannigan is particularly aware of this, as he was one of them.

With that in mind, it has been an area of concern he has sought to address… and it seems to be paying dividends.

“It’s important we keep all the boys together. That was definitely one of the mistakes we made last year. I finished top scorer last season with 24, and Conor Gribben was one behind me – and we both missed the last seven or so games because we were involved with Bryansford.

“This year, I am making Newcastle my focus, and I have told my players to do the same. Who is here, who is training, will be who plays. I have brought a couple of players in from the surrounding areas, and I know that they are Newcastle through and through. They have all played for Newcastle at youth level.”

Things are looking well for the east Down side, although Brannigan admits he feels East Belfast and 1st Bangor – who could both overtake Newcastle if they win their games in hand – will push them all the way in the fight for 1B honours.

Ultimately, it could all come down to a point or two when we reach the climax of the campaign… although if it does, Brannigan may have more reason than most to be biting what fingernails he has left.

The Newcastle striker holds himself accountable for their solitary loss this season so far… a 7-5 defeat to Ballynahinch Olympic, despite leading them 5-2 with 20 minutes to go.

“That was a case of me taking the eye off the ball, and taking a couple of centre midfielders off when I thought we had the game won,” he winced. “But at least I was man enough to go in and apologise to the boys afterwards.

“Then again, we were 2-1 down to Rathfern Rangers last weekend, with ten men, and I made three changes and we ended up winning 5-2. So I guess that evens it out.”

The aim for Brannigan and his players will be to continue this fantastic run of form to ensure that such considerations remain largely irrelevant.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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