STEPHEN Reel’s transition from player to manager was seamless and the once ferocious Cullyhanna full-back didn’t have long to mull over the decision. Someone needed to take the reins and drag the club through the predicted upcoming sticky period.
Reel was handed the bainisteoir bib in 2019 and guided St Patrick’s to the last eight of the Armagh SFC, the furthest his side got throughout his tenure. Due to the knockout nature of the Armagh Championship during Covid, a couple of first-round defeats knocked them back.
Travelling, injuries, county commitments and emigration robbed the St Patrick’s club of some of their biggest and best players. It all accumulated in their relegation to the intermediate ranks last summer.
But Reel has led his side right back up to senior football at the first attempt having dominated the Intermediate Championship this season. Now, they begin their voyage into the Ulster Club campaign with Tyrone champions Pomeroy lying in wait.
“There was a lot of people that went travelling and retired, myself included, around that time and it is different,” said Reel of his movement into management.
“Probably what made it easier was having the u-21s for four or five years which was most of the boys that are senior now. That made it an easier transition that way.
“I knew it was a matter of keeping the thing together as long as we could and we knew the boys that were travelling, if they got that out of their system and got back on board and there were a few good young players coming through.
“If we could get them developed through then we knew that the cycle would turn, it was just a matter of when. But we knew we could get the players back together again to compete at a better level.
“Those young boys, going down to intermediate was a good learning curve for them because they just experienced winning and that was the big thing for them. For the older boys, the focus was to get back to senior football again.”
Reel, who played in both of Cullyhanna’s Senior Championship final appearances in 2013 and 2016, when they lost to Crossmaglen and Maghery respectively, is looking forward to getting a crack at Ulster.
He was a player the last time the club entered the provincial competition. That was way back in 2008 but the likes of Barry McConville is still playing, while Ciaran McKeever and then captain Malachy Mackin are part of Reel’s management team.
“The big thing was to win the Armagh Championship to get back to senior,” added Reel. “We definitely wanted to bounce back quick, that was the challenge. We saw with St Paul’s there (their Armagh final opponents); they’ve been in three finals, and we didn’t want to get into that rut.
“We wanted to bounce back quick and in fairness to the boys, it hurt them going down last year, these boys want to play senior football, there’s a lot of senior footballers on the team.”