By Michael McMullan
GLENRAVEL are back in Division One after an absence of 17 years and now begin a crusade to go one better than last year’s intermediate championship final defeat.
“Finally, we have got back to where a lot of the boys in the club would say we should be, so hopefully we can stay there,” said joint captain David Higgins.
After being a mainstay in the top flight, a shortage of numbers led to a falling away into the lower ranks.
Higgins, in his 14th season at senior level, was one of three players from his underage team to make the step up. In the years before that, there was nobody to top up the senior squad with the lure of Australia tempting lads to taste a new life elsewhere.
“Now we are getting a surge where we are getting at least four or five every year for the past four or five years,” Higgins said of the improvement.
Ian Hynds, a selector under senior manager Joe Cassidy, was at the forefront of a youth development drive that annexed minor and u-20 titles after getting back to the A grade at underage.
“That particular age group have come up after winning through their youth,” Higgins added. “Once they came onto the (senior) team, it was a big jump for us.”
With “eight or nine” new graduates looking a place on the senior team, training numbers began to swell and the quality of the sessions began to rise.
Higgins points to a real competition for places he hopes can take their championship training – which began this week -and focus to another level.
For all the youth, it’s former Portglenone and Antrim player Martin McCarry who is helping steer the ship at the ripe age of 42 since marriage and family life saw him transfer across to Glenravel.
Higgins, just turned 30, is the second oldest. Connor McNeill and Declan Traynor are a few years below that. There is a group in the mid-twenties before the younger guns on the scene.
“Marty (McCarry) has been a great help in the changing room and with the young boys coming in because he played a high level of football,” said Higgins, who has tried to pick up McCarry’s leadership qualities.
The regret of defeat to Dunloy in last year’s championship final lit a fire in the off season, with players wintering well in the gym.
“Some boys came back twice the size they were from the championship last year,” Higgins said. after being in the gym
“A lot of work has been put in behind the scenes and some boys have a lot more pace. Now that the league is out of the way the fire has been stoked again.”
Davitt’s, St Paul’s and last year’s junior champions Pearses make up Glenravel’s group, with the top two qualifying for the quarter-finals.
“The next few weeks are going to be tough, but it is what everyone needs and wants, to be pushing themselves to the absolute limit…championship is a different level.”