By Michael McMullan
BELNALECK begin their league this Saturday against Enniskillen Gaels in a repeat of their last outing, a draw in the final round of the Club Players’ League.
Colm Bradley’s side led by eight points at one stage, but lost their way when Oran McCarney was black carded and Conor Love earned a draw for the Gaels in the closing stages.
“We had the chances to win it,” said Bradley. “It was a good performance, but we didn’t bold on and we had the chances to win it.”
Finishing in the top three of the Club Players’ League sections earn clubs league points (three for finishing top, two for second and one for third) to carry forward into the League proper.
Belnaleck were without county trio Darragh McGurn, Garrett Kavanagh and Kane Connor, who were all available for their win over Kinawley.
“Then we played without our county players and don’t have the strength in depth of other teams, it is difficult for us without the county men.” Bradley pointed out.
They had Che Cullen available, with 2018 Intermediate winning captain Conor McAuley back after missing last year’s semi-final defeat at the hands of the Gaels.
Cullen’s twin brother Lee has transferred back from Sydney-based Penrith Gaels to coincide with a six-week holiday back in Ireland.
Along with Ciaran McBrien, he last played for club and county in 2019 before moving ‘down under’. McBrien is due back home this year and will be in their Championship plans.
Bradley doesn’t know “how feasible” it will be for Lee to return when the Championship kicks into action.
“I’ll not be putting any pressure on him,” he said. “If he can, he can and if he can’t, he can’t…we understand.
“He wants to play in the League when he is home and I think he has the chance of playing a couple of league games.
“The season is short and there are only nine games, we need all the points we can get and having him for two games will only help.”
Another player Bradley won’t be able to call on is Hogan Cup winner Darragh McBrien, who is under contract with Dungannon Swifts.
“I wish him well,” Bradley commented. “I coached them when I was with the county u-20s. He is a great lad, but he has a chance to make a career from soccer so more power to him.”
Belnaleck won the Junior Championship in 2017, with Bradley coming on board the following season to steer them to Intermediate success in his first of five seasons.
Belnaleck man Aaron Quigley has been part of the management team since the start of his term. Clogher man Aidan McElroy came on board as coach last season and this year Lisnaskea’s Daniel Kille has joined the management ticket.
Belnaleck were beaten by Enniskillen (2-9 t0o 0-7) at the semi-final stages of last year’s Championship. In hindsight, Bradley felt they did well considering the player not at his disposal.
“We had our full deck available to us in 2019 and we drew with Derrygonnelly in the semi-final that year,” he added.
Lee Cullen would be a boost should he return for the business end of the season, but a fully fit Conor McAuley and the returning Ciaran McBrien will thicken up their options.
That’s for another day. First, there is the matter of Enniskillen on Saturday and another hour trying to get one over on his brother Simon who stepped up from the Gaels backroom team to take over from John Reihill this season.