By Michael McMullan
ST John’s need an improved performance and to keep their foot on the pedal when they take Dunloy this weekend insists manager Brian McFall.
The former Saffron star is in charge of the Johnnies ahead of their showdown with the champions on Sunday evening in Dunsilly.
After wins against Loughgiel and Naomh Éanna, they fell to Cushendall before edging their quarter-final with Ballycastle.
St John’s led 0-9 to 0-1 midway through the first half against the Shamrocks and built up a nine-point lead early in the second half, but by the time Ryan McKee’s free ended up in the net late on, they hung on for a two-point win.
“We knew a team like Loughgiel is always going to come back at you anyway,” McFall recalls.
It was a different story in their win over Naomh Éanna before not getting out of the blocks against the ‘Dall.
“We played alright in patches last week against Ballycastle, but we didn’t the heights we and they (the players) expected of themselves,” he said, admitting Dunloy will punish a similar performance.
With five players on county duty, McFall’s side met their target of winning the first four league games, helping them finish in the top half of the table away from any relegation bother and up against the big hitters for their championship preparation.
Then came an injury crisis that saw Shea Shannon needing an operation and Peter McCallin also spending a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Digging into their panel, McFall and one of his selectors had to pull on their boots at one point to see through a hectic spell with football and hurling games in the same week.
“We had to ask lads who had played senior hurling and were tipping along with the reserves to come back in and help us out,” he said.
“We ended up in the top six…we got a couple of results and some
of them went against us, it was tough.”
Domhnall Nugent has been out injured and faces an operation, Conal Bohill was on the injured list with Conor Johnston having a stint hurling in America.
“We had an unbalance team right through the year and coming into the championship, you are hoping it levels out,” McFall said
Defender Aidan McMahon limped out of their Naomh Éanna game and faces a year out, with Jack Bohill on his way back from a broken collar bone.
“Any luck we have been getting with injuries this year has been bad luck,” the Johnnies’ boss added, pointing to his dual players having 35 games in a season.
“We have lads getting opportunities they didn’t get before and a few of them have responded well. They have kept their positions right through the year and everybody got a chance.”
McFall accepts that Dunloy are in the same board with dual players and county duty, knowing the champions also eye championship as their time to shine.
“They always get it right at this time of the year,” he said. “It is a big ask, we know we have to be on the top of our game to give these guys a rattle.
“They have some great players on their team, the likes of Keelan Molloy and Seaan Elliott…if you give them opportunities they’ll punish you all day long. We are training away and looking after our injuries. We are out of the football a few weeks, so we’re keeping everybody right and we’ll go out and give it a rattle.”