GAA Football

Changed times for St Enda's

Banagher's Ruairi McCloskey and St Enda's Cormac Ross pictured at the launch of the Ulster Club Hurling Championships at Garvaghey on Monday night. The sides meet in the quarter-final of the Ulster Intermediate Championship this Sunday in Owenbeg. Picture: Jim Dunne

Ulster Intermediate Club Hurling Championship quarter-final: Banagher (Derry) v St Enda's (Antrim)

SLOWLY but surely, things are changing. As 24-year-old St Enda's hurler Cormac Ross sits chatting while Garvaghey empties out around him, his club chairman Stephen Jennings pops down beside us. The conversation turns slightly.

To this point, it had been about the year to date and things with Terence McNaughton.

“He came in at the start of the year and told some home truths. He's definitely changed the mindset of the players and as the season's gone on, winning the intermediate, a lot of credit for that lies with him,” says Ross.

“He's coming from a county setup, from a senior club in Division One, and we're obviously Division Two for a reason. We hadn't the same levels of commitment as the Division One teams, and that's something that he tried to instil in us. Upped commitment levels, upped attendance levels at training and made it compulsory for everyone to be make that commitment.

“He would say it himself, he didn't teach us to roll-lift the ball or hit the ball. He's not going to teach us anything massively new. But one thing he did above all was change the mindset of the players and make them demand the commitment from each other.

“He's an incredible motivator. There have been some inspirational talks throughout the year, and now we're nearly at the stage where we just go out and hurl. He's said a lot of what he needs to say at this stage.”

Ross himself had briefly gone back to football last year and was part of the squad that reached the All-Ireland intermediate final, but decided thereafter to concentrate his efforts back towards his first love.

Born in Prehen in Derry, the Ross family moved to Glengormley when he was a child. His father, Dee, was a former Portaferry hurler.

When Cormac was coming up through school in St Malachy's, the wall ball came about. Sliotars were banned, with only tennis balls allowed, but it was an improvement on even a few years previous.

Jennings' own son Cormac was given a detention as recently as 2004 for walking through the school carrying a hurl. That's the recency of some of the barriers.

But the fact that the new local Gaelscoil Eanna is located on the club's grounds, and the work that's been put into other schools around north Belfast and Glengormley itself, has seen the hurling club thrive.

They begin to reminisce on a 60-point walloping that Loughgiel handed down to them when Ross was U12. Three years later, they won the north Antrim U14 championship.

Next year, for the first time in the club's history, they will play Division One hurling. It's just six years since they were slumming it in Division Four.

“Our primary goal will be to retain our Division One status. Typically in Antrim it's that yo-yo effect where it's the same teams going up from Division Two and getting relegated year on year. That transition to stay in Division One will be the biggest challenge. Hopefully we're up to it but it'll be a massive test,” says Ross.

On Sunday, they will take a step into the Ulster intermediate championship when they face Derry's second tier winners, Banagher.

A restructure to the format of the Derry championships in recent years means that Banagher enter the Ulster intermediate having played senior championship in Derry, where they reached three consecutive finals prior to this year.

For Ross, though, that can only be a good thing for whoever emerges from a competitive provincial race.

“Ulster teams over the past number of years have struggled when they've gone and played the Munster or Leinster champions so we'd rather play the best of the best in Ulster and find out where we're at next week.

“Banagher will probably be the toughest test we've had this year.”

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