Ballinderry manager deserves hero status
Although manager Martin McKinless hinted strongly at retirement in the wake of Ballinderry's defeat to St Vincent's last Saturday night, Shamrocks attacker Conleith Gilligan has emphasised that he would leave with the gratitude of players and supporters alike.
The defeat in the All-Ireland semi-final took it out of McKinless, who told reporters after the game: "I maybe could be on the road out, I don't know, I will see what happens, see the lads and talk to them. I have served my time, have been in there six years or maybe more, we will see what happens."
It might have been expected that he would announce his retirement to the players in the dressing room after, but that conversation did not take place, Gilligan admits.
"Now is probably not a time for making any decision, whether that be players or management so I would imagine he will take a bit of time and think about it," Gilligan said.
"I wouldn't rule him out of coming back again. Once he gets a few weeks or a month break out he might have a change of heart."
McKinless first took charge of Ballinderry in 2006, which ended with a win over the Loup in the county final. He returned two years later and they defeated Slaughtneil in that year's decider before reaching the Ulster club final, losing out to Crossmaglen in a replay.
After that, he took another year out but was not idle, leading Derrylaughan to an unlikely Tyrone Intermediate Championship.
He returned as Ballinderry manager and masterminded their historic three-in-a-row and the Ulster club title.
Gilligan paid tribute to that incredible record – five undefeated campaigns in one of the most competitive domestic Championships – saying, "Whatever Martin decides to do, what he has done within Ballinderry has been unrivalled. Even within most counties there are very few managers with that record.
"If he decides to step down, it will be with the blessing and thanks of all the club I am sure."
McKinless' dedication to the club is impressive. As well as managing the senior team, he also volunteers on the Executive committee, collects lottery funds and lends his hand to any structural work required around the grounds.
As a manager, he has successfully kept on board a generation of veteran players while also bringing through a new breed, including his sons Daniel and Gareth.
Describing his strengths as a manager, Gilligan commented: "Martin is a farmer by trade, (up) from half five, six in the morning until whatever time the tractor stops at night he's going the whole time 100 mile an hour.
"The thing about him is, he is very straight, very direct, he tells you how the thing is.
"There is no back doors with him, which he would admit himself, if he has something to say to you he will say it. From the players' point of view, if he does decide to go, we would be sad to see him leave."
Another key facet of Ballinderry's success over the past decade has been the consistency of the backroom team. Fabian Muldoon has been the team trainer since James McCartan's year in charge in 2009.
Selector Joe Canavan was there with McKinless in 2006 and returned for the last three years, while Eugene McIver and Kevin Wilkinson also take a part in preparation of training.
In the past, Gilligan has spoken of his desire to play football until he is 40, and he expects other players of his vintage of veterans of the 2002 All-Ireland club success to also remain.
"I fully intend to play on. I will be very surprised if any of the rest of the lads walk away at this stage," he commented.
"There is at least another year or two in all of them. Enda (Muldoon) hasn't been able to train as he would have liked this year. Yet he went into an All-Ireland semi-final this year and more than held his own.
"If he can get his injuries cleared up at the start of this season, there's no reason why Enda couldn't play on for another year or two."
Mickey Conlan, who underwent an intensive training programme to be able to meet the demands of the modern game is also expected to remain, with Gilligan commenting: "Sure Mickey C's just built out of granite, he will go forever, so I don't see anything changing.
"Obviously the role of some of us may change, in that we may take a back seat and let the younger players develop, and (we may) play a more supportive role. But in terms of being part of something, I can't imagine wanting to walk away."
* THE Dr McKenna Cup final, between Tyrone and Cavan tomorrow with an 8pm throw-in, has been moved to the Athletic Grounds, Armagh, from Brewster Park, Enniskillen.