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Quality key for Ballinderry

By Declan Bogue

Heading out of the dressing rooms for the team coach, the faces on the Ballinderry players on Sunday were of the haunted type. One player in particular who made a big contribution when the contest hung in the balance was easing his nerves with a cigarette.

It was an old-fashioned sight indeed, but no more than a grizzled outfit who know the drill in this competition, steadily climbing their way back up the mountain having appeared to be gone with 15 minutes left.

Four points ahead, Scotstown were playing with the sort of innocence that can infect first-timers in the Ulster club championship. They were buzzing with purpose. But then Ballinderry got a bit of traction, referee Noel Mooney awarded them a couple of very generous frees and linesman Martin Sludden flagged for a sideline ball that never left the field of play.

Conleith Gilligan floated over two frees and Darren Conway got a goal to go two up. Still the Monaghan men came back and levelled.

Then, experience took over. Mickey Conlan's kickout reached Enda Muldoon. His ball in took a bounce and ended in the hands of James Conway who rapidly dished off to Ryan Bell, who calmly opened his scoring account on 60 minutes.

Up until that point, Bell had been having a poor day by his standards.

As he had in the Monaghan county final to look after Clontibret's Conor McManus, Kieran Hughes had dropped back from his usual forward position to do a job as a man-marking full back and had performed a brilliant job on Bell.

In an effort to get him into the game, the Shamrocks manager Martin McKinless brought Bell out to win a few breaks in midfield, but apart from the late point he had an unhappy day in front of goal, kicking three wides.

On his way to the bus, the man they call 'Sucky' stopped to talk with reporters, clearly feeling deflated at his own performance when he said about Hughes, "I was expecting somebody to come to me. He is a good player, I know that. But we were lucky to win.

"It wasn't a good day for me, shooting-wise anyway, but I got the crucial score in the end."

This win was fashioned by the amount of experience he and his team-mates have amassed from all their Ulster club experiences, something he acknowledged when he said, "We knew we had to dig deep. That's what we did to get the result. Gareth McKinless got the free near the end that set up a point for 'Deets' (Conleith Gilligan) and a goal for Darren Conway.

"But we have to get ourselves back to the drawing board and we have to work harder after that performance."

At the very beginning, Scotstown had made several positional switches from the squad. It gave them an early impetus as Ballinderry organised their defensive match-ups.

It took some quick-thinking from manager McKinless, who commented after, "For the previous games they played they never played any men in the same position twice or three times. But look, we weren't panicking, we were happy enough to leave whoever was with them at that stage until the thing panned out and we got the thing sorted out. It worked out in the finish.

"Our biggest problem at half-time was winning the breaking ball. We weren't winning the breaking ball and we wanted to rectify that at half-time. We got in around there, to be fair we did do that.

"The other thing we did was get the men attacking up the wings. But when we were able to win that breaking ball I was happy enough."

Introducing Kevin 'Moss' McGuckin at half-time was crucial to gaining a foothold in midfield.

He has been gradually gaining more and more minutes on the pitch and has done his chances of inclusion for the semi-final no harm as McKinless noted, "He has been playing very well up to now. He has been coming back from injuries but he has been playing very well in training.

"He has his head on it and his name is in the melting pot for the next day, whoever it may be."

While McKinless admitted that the Ballinderry substitutions were perhaps the major reason for victory here, it should be noted that none other than Enda Muldoon was a second half replacement.

It is because of that quality that many are favouring Ballinderry to win the Seamus McFerran Cup.

Another school of thought was they needed a test here after coming through the preliminary round against Clonoe almost totally unscathed, an assertion that McKinless answered with a laugh, "That's fair enough. But you aren't standing along the sideline!"

Belfast Telegraph


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