GAA Football

Belnaleck hoping to upset the odds again

Belnaleck won the Fermanagh junior title in 2017 and followed it up with an intermediate title a year later. They now face kingpins Derrygonnelly in the senior championship this weekend. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Fermanagh SFC: Belnaleck v Derrygonnelly Harps (Saturday, 7pm, Brewster Park)

BELNALECK may be rank outsiders against five-in-a-row chasing Derrygonnelly Harps this weekend, but that’s nothing new – and they intend to stay on course for their own three-in-a-row.

Having won the Fermanagh junior title in 2017 and then the intermediate in 2018, Colm Bradley’s side caused a tremor when his Division Two outfit came from behind late on and saw off Division One league leaders Ederney in their SFC quarter-final.

Living out in Belnaleck for 15 years, former Fermanagh forward Bradley took over in his adopted club at the start of the 2018 season.

He was part of the last team to win five on the bounce in the county, when the Enniskillen Gaels outfit he played for won six in total from 1998 to 2003.

No-one has beaten Derrygonnelly in the straight knockout championship since Teemore in 2014. Bradley will set out the stall for his side to still be there in the final quarter.

“It was the same when we were winning championships, winning just breeds confidence, especially in those last 10 or 15 minutes.

“We’re going to have to try and keep it tight until then and ask them some serious questions, but so far they’ve had all the answers when anyone else has asked them. We have to see if we can do something a bit different.”

That was the template that worked against Ederney, where Darragh McGurn’s tally of 2-5 included the two scores that stopped a run of six straight scores at the other end and brought them level before sub Sean Lewsley clipped the winner.

“We never really panicked, to be fair. We talked about being there in the last 10 minutes and asking a question of them.

“I remember running on and saying to Ché Cullen, “we’re exactly where we wanted to be,” and he just nodded his head. There were five minutes left and two points in it.

“We started winning some kickouts, Darragh McGurn kicked a free and then a wonderful score to equalise. You could see the game was there if we could win the kickout. Sean Lewsley, a sub, kicked over a great winner.

“We’re very fortunate we have strength-in-depth, we can bring boys on to make an impact. By the time he kicked it, Ederney were a bit shell-shocked.

“But we didn’t play that well with the ball, to be honest. There was a bit of rustiness in us. Our intensity and tackling were very good, but I like to think we can play a bit better.”

They were almost as big an outsider for that game as they will be for this weekend’s.

“Somebody told us we were 4/1 or 5/1, I don’t really pay any heed to it but it shows what neutrals were thinking about it. This week, we’re 7/1 so…

“League is league. It’s changed a lot in the last 10 years in terms of availability of players.

“I’d try not to push my county players too much in terms of availability in the league, because the county’s a lot more serious now than when I played, and I remember what it was like playing with niggles and knocks, and coming back after a long inter-county season and straight back into league.

“In the league last year Derrygonnelly probably had a very strong 25, so they were still stronger when everyone was missing fellas.

“This year they have a few fellas working away, a few boys travelling, they might have felt the pinch a bit, but they have Stephen McGullion back and Declan Cassidy back.

“Paul Ward’s a long-term injury and he’s obviously a loss, but they’re not too far away from where they’ve been.”

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