GAA: Ballinderry crowned Kings of Ulster as they beat Glenswilly

AIB Ulster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Final, Healy Park, Co. Tyrone 1/12/2013 'Glenswilly vs Ballinderry'Ballinderry's Kevin McGuckin and Glenswilly's Ciaran Bonner 'Mandatory Credit �INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard
AIB Ulster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Final, Healy Park, Co. Tyrone 1/12/2013 'Glenswilly vs Ballinderry'Ballinderry's Kevin McGuckin and Glenswilly's Ciaran Bonner 'Mandatory Credit �INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritchard

It says everything about the 2013 Ulster champions that no sooner had Glenswilly been defeated, than thoughts had turned to their All Ireland quarter final opponents.

That’s the Ballinderry ethos. Three Derry titles in succession would be reward enough for most teams but not this Shamrocks side.

Behind those Oak Leaf triumphs hid a frustration; a frustration that has nibbled away at the club since 2001. That frustration has been quelled for now but the satisfaction will be only fleeting for Martin McKinless and his players.

In Ballinderry, every Cup won is savoured as bringing them simply one step closer to the next trophy.

For players like Enda Muldoon, Mickey Conlan and Kevin McGuckin Sunday’s win meant a second Ulster medal but for most it was a long overdue first and capped an emotional few weeks for the club that saw the loss of two club stalwarts.

Sean McIvor, whose brother Eugene is part of the management team, passed away days before the semi-final win over Kilcoo. Then, on Wednesday, the village was stunned by the death of former chairman Eugene McGeehan, at just 53 years of age.

A relative of many of the players and someone who had an influence on every footballing career that has blossomed behind the Shamrock Park gates, it was fitting that the players wore black armbands bearing his nickname, ‘Noogie’.

Glenswilly asked more questions of them than many had expected but there was no question which side deserved to win.

Glenswilly dropped everyone back and allowed Ballinderry to work their own kickouts short but the Shamrocks pushed up for Philip O’Donnell’s restarts and with James Conway getting the better of Neil Gallagher in the air, the Derry champions dominated the kickouts.

The Donegal champions, in the form of Michael Murphy, Colin Kelly, Ciaran Bonner and Neil Gallagher, had some outstanding individuals, but they couldn’t match Ballinderry in the other areas of the pitch.

Even a goal at the start of each half and adopting the Jim McGuinness’ county blueprint of 13 behind the ball wasn’t enough to deny Ballinderry who found their way around the opposition though they had to be patient.

The game wasn’t 40 seconds old when Michael Murphy went for a point off his left foot but ended up raising a green flag.

His shot dipped in off the far post and gave the Tír Chonaill men the perfect start.

Moments later Murphy thumped over a brilliant 45. You could see the confidence growing amongst the Donegal men but Ballinderry didn’t panic.

Their scores when they did come came from a couple of moments of individual brilliance from Coilin Devlin, Dermot McGuckin and James Conway to help them back into the game.

Both Devlin and McGuckin fired over scores from distance to get their sides back into the encounter and help settle any early nerves.

Even by that stage, a defensive reshuffle saw Gareth McKinless and Connor Nevin switch. McKinless picked up Michael Murphy for the rest of the game and was once more superb, helping limit the influential Donegal star and further strengthening his claims for a county shirt in the process.

Despite their patience, it was a long ball that brought Ballinderry’s crucial goal. With Ryan Bell briefly stationed at the edge of the square he was causing trouble.

Eamon Ward’s block on Bell’s attempt for a point was superb but it fell beautifully into the path of Michael McIver who beat Philip O’Donnell to the ball and fisted it to the net much to the delight of the travelling Shamrock’s fans.

The Shamrocks hadn’t finished their and Dermot McGuckin landed a brilliant score in injury time to make it 1-6 to 1-2 at the interval.

The Donegal weren’t going to fold that easily however and Colin Kelly hit 1-1 in the opening three minutes of the second half to bring Glenswilly right back into contention.

Kelly’s goal was unselfishly set up by Murphy, and then the Donegal captain curled a magnificent score to level it at 1-7 to 2-4.

Ballinderry reacted by bringing in Enda Muldoon and Aaron Devlin, but they found themselves behind again when Darren McGinley ladned a fine point.

But never underestimate the value of experience. In those final 15 minutes, the Shamrocks showed what winning an Ulster title meant to them and none more so than Conleith Gilligan. The veteran corner forward landed a magnificent free from 45 metres to all but seal the win.

Moments before, he had played a major part in the score of the game when he won a 50-50 ball and got it back to the overlapping Kevin McGuckin who managed to hold on to it. Before off-loading to Darren Conway who dissected the posts from almost the touchline without looking at them.

The final whistle was greeted by scenes of jubilation as the whole of the parish of Ballinderry appeared onto the field to great their heroes and savour their first Ulster title in 12 years.

The season for the loughshore men doesn’t finish in Omagh. Next up for Martin McKinless’s side is a trip to London for a meeting with their champions Kerry Kingdom Gaels on December 15th.