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Derry champs eye an Ulster triumph

By John Campbell

Ballinderry manager Martin McKinless has long since come to accept that patience must of necessity be a virtue in a sporting context.

Since 1981, his club have won the Ulster club football championship on just one occasion (2001) – this despite the fact a conveyor belt of individual talent has been fully operational in the interim.

As yet, no adequate soothing balm has been applied to the hurt experienced in provincial final defeats to Crossmaglen Rangers in 2006 and 2008.

Thus it is easy to understand why McKinless is bursting with desire as he prepares to send his side into battle against Kilcoo in Sunday's semi-final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh.

Even a third Derry title on the trot has gone nowhere near satiating Ballinderry's raw hunger to take their place on the provincial throne.

And that's exactly the way the fiercely-driven McKinless wants things.

"We have been waiting far too long for an Ulster title," insists McKinless.

"Sure, we have had good players but while we have managed to get our hands on Derry titles, the Ulster prize has eluded the club since 2001.

"That's a long famine by Ballinderry standards.

"The club won the All-Ireland title in 2002 but can't dine out on that forever.

"Obviously those two final defeats by Crossmaglen were a big disappointment and we have also lost in quarter-finals and semi-finals so that has been hard to take."

McKinless put Kilcoo under the microscope no later than last weekend when they overcame reigning champions Crossmaglen Rangers in a pulsating quarter-final replay at the Athletic Grounds and knows the enormity of the challenge which his side will now face.

"Much is being made of the fact that Kilcoo have played two games both of which went to extra-time over this past couple of Sundays but to my mind they have shown levels of fitness and concentration that will serve them well again against us.

"No matter what anyone says, there are no favourites at this stage of the Ulster club championship," raps McKinless.

Five Under-21 players, including his own two sons Daniel and Gareth, will underpin a Ballinderry side yet to reach full potential even though they have managed to retain the Derry crown.

Ryan Bell, Darren Lawn and Aaron Devlin are the other young guns who have stepped up smartly to the mark this year to complement the experience of old hands such as Michael Conlan, Kevin McGuckin, James Conway and Conleith Gilligan.

And McKinless will face an interesting selection poser when he sits down tonight with his selectors to put the finishing touches to his line-up.

In the Ulster club quarter-final win over Scotstown, Darren Conway, Kevin 'Moss' McGuckin and veteran warhorse Enda Muldoon all came off the bench with 10 minutes to go to make significant contributions to their team's win.

"Darren Conway got a goal in that game while the other boys that were introduced did really well so we have additional options," says McKinless.

With former Derry county aces Kevin McGuckin and James Conway likely to form the midfield pairing, 19-year-old Ryan Bell may be handed a vital link role between defence and attack.

Regarded as one of the most exciting young talents in Ulster, Bell has been a revelation this year and landed the winning point against Scotstown.

Daniel McKinless and long-serving Conleith Gilligan have been key cogs in the Ballinderry attack.

"The good thing is that we are not dependant on any one player to get scores," said the manager.

"This was the case in the Derry final against Ballinascreen and things have continued in this vein in our Ulster club games against Clonoe and Scotstown to date."

Belfast Telegraph

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