"Soft townie" perception unfair on Warrenpoint: McAleenan
WARRENPOINT manager Niall McAleenan believes any perception that they’re a “soft townie team” is unfair on his side – but that their biggest hurdle is coming down the tracks this weekend.
Cumann Pheadair Naofa will be aiming for their first Down SFC title since 1953 when they meet Kilcoo in Newry on Sunday, with Mickey Moran’s outfit aiming to reclaim the title they’d won six years in-a-row prior to Burren taking it off them last year.
That result was reversed after a replayed semi-final, whereas Warrenpoint backed up their tag as dark horses with a thumping win over Ballyholland.
The early 1990s saw RGU Downpatrick and Castlewellan win titles, but the Frank O’Hare Cup hasn’t resided in a major town since ’95.
McAleenan played on the Castlewellan team that lost the 2001 decider to Mayobridge, under his father Barney, who now operates in the son’s backroom team.
In his three years in charge, McAleenan feels that his players have passed a lot of tests, but admits Kilcoo’s experience of the big day could be a major factor.
“In Down, this year it has been a very competitive championship. Barring a couple of games there hasn’t been much in any of them, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, the two big hitters are still Burren and Kilcoo.
“Those games [between the two] were very tight but whoever came through it was going to be expected to go on and win the championship, and in many peoples’ eyes that’s still the way it is.
“But there is an inner confidence in the Warrenpoint. They’re a resilient bunch of players. People would have the impression that townie teams are soft, but we’ve challenged these boys over the last three years both physically and mentally, and I’ve no doubt on Sunday that they’ll give it their all and try to be thereabouts in the last 10 minutes.
“If they can do that, they’re in with every chance.
“The Castlewellan team we had, we played an expansive style of football and we had pace, like this Warrenpoint team does.
“Sometimes people looking from afar can have that perception [of softness], but time after time we’ve asked questions of them and they’ve stood up.
“I can’t have asked any more from them in terms of commitment, and I can only speak very highly of them. Hopefully they can bring all those qualities on Sunday and try to push this Kilcoo team as far as they can.”
Warrenpoint are sweating on the fitness of captain Ryan Boyle, who missed the semi-final with a quad injury. His dismissal on a second booking ended their hopes of a shock in last year’s semi-final defeat by Kilcoo, where the ‘Point were in contention until the final ten minutes before going down to a four-point loss.
Sunday will be Kilcoo’s seventh straight county final, and in Mickey Moran and Conleith Gilligan they have a management team that has legions of sideline experience of the big day.
It’s Warrenpoint’s first final since 1978 and McAleenan’s first as a manager, but he’s been impressing on the players the need to strike the occasion from their minds.
“There’s no doubt [managing the occasion can be tricky], and Kilcoo’s experience of the logistics and what to do on the day, that’s all new to Warrenpoint.
“I’ve been saying to the boys that they have to embrace the build-up, but that once the ball throws in at 4pm, the only thing that matters is 60 or 70 minutes of football, it’s not about playing the occasion.
“We have to stick to what’s got us there in the first place, and if they do that, I’ve no doubt they can compete very well.
“Whether that’s good enough to get us across the line and bring the Frank O’Hare Cup back to Warrenpoint for the first time in 66 years, we’ll only know at 5.15pm.”