By Michael McMullan
DERRY league champions Bellaghy have their eyes fully focussed on next month’s championship opener with Dungiven insists Eoghan Brown.
The Tones won their first league title since 2004 and used the campaign to make progress from last season when they found themselves in trouble until Derry CCC’s decision to scrap the relegation play-offs.
“We didn’t set out with any plans to target that we had to win the league,” Brown said of their game-by-game approach to make sure they progressed from 2022.
“We are trying to get consistency in our performances and I think we have found that. It is also useful for getting younger lads into the team.”
The current Bellaghy senior team has a raft of their 2018 Ulster Minor winning team on board, with Luke Diamond and Ciaran Chambers the latest from the underage ranks to bed into the side.
They’ll now welcome back both Declan and Paul Cassidy from duty with Derry on their run to Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final.
“It (the league) isn’t the be all and end all,” said Brown, now the most experienced member of Damian Cassidy’s side. “While it was great to win it. using it as preparation for the championship is really what it is all about.”
Cassidy managed the bulk of the side at minor level and Brown acknowledges the step up to senior level, comparing the length of time it took Glen’s all-conquering minor crop to begin to challenge at senior level.
“You nearly think they’ll come in the next year and light it up,” Brown said of watching their minors conquer Ulster. “It takes them a while to get there, it’s a big step up from minor into senior football.”
Last year was Cassidy’s first season as boss and Brown felt it took much of 2023 to get used to the modern game and the levels required.
“It took us a while; it probably took us a year and we hit the ground running at the start of this season,” he said. “We were gearing up essentially from the start again and try to find that consistency.”
Looking into a new-look format for the championship, Brown, on a personal level, feels there should not be a relegation aspect to the championships with the bottom two teams going into play-offs and the losers dropping down to leave just 12s team in the 2024 Senior Championship.
“That’s just my take on it,” he said, before outlining where Bellaghy’s focus lies ahead of the business end of the season.
“The league was a competition that was good for us and it was nice to win, but it is all about the championship. We’re taking it the same way as the league, game by game, our first game is at home to Dungiven, that’s our focus and we are not looking any further. Our target is to get a win against Dungiven and see whoever comes after that.”