By Michael McMullan
THERE is excitement in the air as Ballyhaise bid to add Ulster honours to a season that saw their men’s and ladies’ teams crowned champions of Cavan.
After coming back from the jaws of defeat to sink Glenullin, they take on Cullyhanna on Sunday in Castleblayney.
“The players, management and club, everyone is looking forward to Sunday. There is huge excitement after the game against Glenullin,” manager Damien Keaney told Gaelic Life.
“The players, and rightly so, celebrated after that game after coming from behind and showing resilience.
“We are delighted and the mood in the camp, everyone is really looking forward and mad to get playing.”
After winning the first intermediate title in eight seasons, Ballyhaise easily saw off Downings before needing a 55th-minute David Brady goal to shake off a Glenullin side who had led for long spells.
It came after Ballyhaise passed up a series of goal chances but Keaney is content to see his side create the chances.
“Hopefully we get the same amount of chances and maybe finish them at the weekend but the way things are going, we are quite happy,” he added.
Keaney had a spell in the Ballyhaise management under Aiden Watters and Pat Duggan before stepping away but he is now back as manager and is well placed to talk about their development.
With almost four years, he speaks of the learning and improvement with the bitter taste of defeat helping sharpen both the focus and issues needing ironed out.
“These players have had in abundance,” Keaney said of the pain of defeat in the system.
“The club itself lost those two county finals. To be able to come back and learn from those games and improve to push on to win the county title was the main goal, everything else is a bonus.”
Speaking after their win over Glenullin, Aodhagan Watters pointed to the importance youth has played in Ballyhaise moving from also-rans to champions in Cavan. Keaney agrees.
“The younger players coming in this year have made a huge impact,” he said. “Young Evan Crowe has been a starting player for the team.
“There are also young players who have really pushed on and have been coming on in games in Division One league football so the development is good and that’s an improvement that is happening with fellas are pushing on all the time.”
After losing to Butlersbridge and Castlerahan in the last two seasons, Ballyhaise went all the way this season. They were near misses but there was learning in the background.
“I came in as manager,” Keaney said. “I brought in Ciaran Owens as a coach who is a very energetic fella and Noel Tierney as a selector, and a number of others.
“It is a good management team that has been progressing and throughout the years and I am lucky the club have put faith in me to try and improve them.”
With several of the players having links to the ladies’ team, it has added to the overall buzz generated by both teams challenging for honours and Keaney feels the ladies helped break the ground.
“It is not easy coming in a third year in a row and I think it (ladies’ success) did help the lads because the ladies were leading by example and the men did follow then,” Keaney offered.
Speaking at Monday night’s launch of this weekend’s final, Keaney was a relaxed figure.
He is excited by the junior and intermediate provincial competitions that have extended the club season into every corner of Ireland.
“We have looked at our game against Glenullin and taken parts of it we can take to the next game,” he said of the Ballyhaise preparation since the semi-final.
They’ve had a look at Cullyhanna too. Keaney was in Castleblayney to run his eye over their win over Liatroim.
“You have to look at opposition, we’ve done it for every game and we’ve watched video clips. We have been talking and we’ll plan for it,” he added.
“It is difficult in that you don’t know the teams as well as the teams in Cavan so we’ll go by what we see.
“They are a huge team and they are second favourite for the All-Ireland which makes them favourites to win Ulster from the very start.
“They beat a fancied Pomeroy team and take through other tough games including Liatroim
“It is going to be a tough game for us. They have a lot of experience and a lot of Armagh county players.
“We’ll be going in and we’ll be doing the best we can and putting the best foot forward.”