Belleek future looking brighter - and firmer - on and off the pitch
WHEN you're a small club you take any advantages you can get on the pitch - even from the pitch.
Yet Laurence O'Toole's in Belleek, the new Armagh Junior Football champions, have still improved their field, even though that might help opponents, explains club secretary Lorcan Quinn with a laugh:
"From it was first created it's always been a bit of a bog. It would only ever have been good for about three weeks in the summertime, when it would have been rock solid; the rest of the time it was a bog.
"For years it didn't do us any harm because other teams hated coming down to play on it."
Their previous pitch was drier - but not so flat: "Years ago they were on the Tate Road, which isn't far away, but that field was on a massive hump, so you could barely see one net from the other net! It's always been slow progress, but we're slowly getting there in terms of facilities.
"We are a young club, only really re-formed in '83, and before that we were only in existence for a very short period of time in the late 60s. We're trying to improve our facilities all the time."
Quinn, only 29 and still playing, was "roped into" the secretary's role this year and talks with enthusiasm about the club's hopes for the near future:
"We have big plans - finally we're getting our new field, it's already been done and should be ready for next year. That'll be a massive change, because our main field for years and years was terrible. It'll be a great boost to the club to have a decent main field.
"We also have planning in to re-develop the clubrooms and changing rooms, get a new hall in place, maybe a club bar. That's part of the vision for the future.
"We're also trying to offer more for the females in the club - we don't have any ladies teams. We're starting from U12s next year, that's already in motion although they can't compete this year, but they've already been meeting up and training and there's been great interest. Hopefully we can progress that through all underage levels up to senior.
"With the senior team going well and these ambitious projects, there's a really good buzz in the community."
That renewed spirit will be required, Quinn knows: "In terms of the field re-development we've just got a loan. The longer-term plans are going to cost an awful lot, we'll be heavily reliant on grants. Our fundraising capacity, although it has improved because of the success of the senior team, I don't think we'd ever be in a position to raise all the money ourselves."
Manager of a children's home in Craigavon, Quinn wasn't born when the club re-formed in 1983, despite some opposition, having first started up in 1967 before lapsing in the early Seventies.
Still, he knows the history, or some of it: "The club really split from Whitecross. Everybody in Belleek would have played for Whitecross, it's in the same parish…I wasn't around when the club was re-formed.
"It's Loughgilly Parish. Although people in Whitecross will tell you it's called Whitecross Parish, it's not."
Having lost last year's Junior final to Forkhill, Belleek marked 20 years since their first Junior triumph with victory this season over Crossmaglen Seconds, the culmination of a push for championship success:
"Over the last couple of years we've had a load of good young players come onto the senior panel and they have driven the whole thing on. For years we were nowhere near winning a Junior title, we were poor. It's only really in the last couple of years that we've had relative success, which gave everybody the belief that we could go and win.
"Covid-19 has stopped people from emigrating, a lot of young boys might have thought about leaving.
"The club committee has also invested heavily in this team, getting us gym facilities and bringing in managers from outside, even before Gareth. The committee has really had belief in this team that they could go and win a championship….They've brought a whole new level of professionalism and belief to the thing.
Gareth is Thornton from Burren, who's assisted by Brendan Savage and Brendan O'Neill. Quinn believes that trio will have the team well prepared to taken on Sean McDermott's from Three Mile House in Monaghan in the Ulster Club JFC quarter-final in Crossmaglen this weekend.
McDermott's boast county midfielder Niall Kearns and ousted Tyrone representatives Cookstown Fr Rock's, but Belleek have scouted in depth: "We saw them playing, probably everyone in the village watched them against Fr Rock's, either at the game or on the live stream.
"They looked like a good team but everyone is excited about getting into Ulster - and there's no lack of belief in us that we can get past Sean McDermott's."
Belleek are building on firmer foundations now, and aim to keep striding forward.