By Michael McMullan
LEAGUE champions Portglenone have benefited from the learning curve of being involved in tough championship encounters in recent seasons.
That was the feeling of Niall Delargy after Saturday’s win over Creggan.
The Casements now face Dunloy as they aim to put their semi-final hoodoo to bed and book a first final spot since 2009.
“We are very experienced now and each time that we have been in a tough game, it has been a learning curve for us,” Delargy said.
“We have got over the line here against Creggan and it is proof that we are learning as a team and we are getting better.”
Delargy got forward to kick a vital point and it was Portglenone’s running game that made the greatest impact.
When Creggan coughed up possession, it was Delargy’s midfield partner Niall McKeever’s run that made the game-defining goal for Aidan McAleese.
While there was a slice of luck attached to the goal, substitute Ciaran McKenna’s run led to a point seconds later and Portglenone pushed into a commanding position.
“We pride ourselves on being a fast and fit team. Once we go direct, we are hard to stop, it’s one of our strengths,” said Delargy, who played much of his football as an attacking wing-back.
“It is no surprise to us; we know we have the legs to push it on through the middle.”
McKeever was the only starter to have played in Portglenone’s last county final appearance, a 2009 defeat to St Gall’s.
Manager John McKeever was part of that panel that also included current selectors Adrian McKeever, his brother, and Barry McErlain.
Since then, the Casements dropped to intermediate football before a swathe of young players helped them back on track with u-21 and IFC titles.
Earlier this year, they annexed the Senior League title and the hope in the camp that it will be the stepping stone to the ultimate prize.
“Winning the league, as a club, was a momentous occasion. It was our first senior title. As players, it was brilliant to get silverware,” Delargy added.
“Our ultimate aim is a championship and a league is a journey along the way. We used it a lot and gave game time to almost 30 players throughout the year.
“We used it as a learning curve. We gave plenty of players experience and we used it to see out games and try out new tactics.
“It was brilliant to win it, but it was a stepping stone to later on in the year.”