LIAM ‘Baker’ Bradley says that his All Saints, Ballymena team have done well even to reach the Antrim Intermediate final against Glenravel this Saturday.
The reason for that is that his team have been hit by a major injury crisis with nearly half of their usual starting line-up sidelined with injury, including county duo Paddy McAleer and Conor Stewart.
The former Antrim manager isn’t playing mind-games – it is obvious they are down in numbers – but they’re a tough team to beat so it’s certainly no gimme for pre-match favourites Glenravel.
“We’ve had a massive injury crisis all year. Paddy McAleer and Conor Stewart haven’t kicked a ball for us all year. Conor did his cruciate in the semi-final of the Tailteann Cup and Paddy has a long-standing groin injury.
“Our regular goalkeeper Conor Brennan had to have a shoulder operation. James Gillen, our player of the year last year, isn’t available, nor is Eoin Campbell.
“Peter McReynolds, who’d regularly score 1-5 or 1-6 for us, he’s injured too. Then lo and behold, the lad who scored 2-1 in the semi-final, Kavan Keenan, he was on a plane to Australia the next day so he’s absent too.
“That’s some turnover in players but it shows our strength-in-depth that we’ve actually got to the final. We aren’t going there to make up the numbers, anything can happen in a big championship game.”
All Saints have only lost one game all year – that being a two-point defeat to Glenravel in the league. It’s a derby contest in this year’s final, something that’s impossible to ignore.
“It’d be considered a derby game. Ballymena and Glenravel are only separated by Broughshane and there’s not much Gaelic played there.
“Since Glenravel came back into intermediate a few years ago there’s been a bit of bite in our games with them.
“We’ve probably been the two strongest teams in intermediate football in Antrim. They turned us over in the quarters by a couple of points but it was close from the first whistle to the last.”
His opposition counterpart on the sideline will be another well-known Derry man, Joe Cassidy who is at the helm of Glenravel.
Bradley commented: “We’ve crossed paths many-a-time on the line. We’re good friends and go back a long way. We’re massive underdogs on Saturday. There’s even talk Glenravel would be one of the favourites for Ulster so that shows you what we’re up against. They’ve built their team around an u-20 team that won the Antrim championship three years ago so they’re very tough opponents.”