Kilrea aiming for highest possible finish in group stages

By Michael McMullan

FINISHING as high up the table as possible is Kilrea’s James Kielt’s target as he looks at this year’s championship campaign in Derry.

The new format consists of two groups of seven with the top four advancing to the quarter-finals. There is the added jeopardy of the bottom two dropping into relegation play-offs.

Goals from Daithi McLaughlin and Paddy Quigg helped the Pearses to victory over Ballinderry when the championship kicked into action last weekend.

“I’ve played Ballinderry a few times in the championship and that’s the first time we’ve beaten them,” said Kielt, who kicked a handful of points alongside younger brother Larry at midfield.

“I know it wasn’t a knock-out game, but there is still plenty to play for and it was good to get a win. It was a monkey off your back and there are a lot of young boys that haven’t won too many championship games.

“The draw hasn’t been too kind to us in the last few years. You are looking to get as far up the table as possible with Glen looking like they’ll top the other section.

“It was a game both teams would’ve been looking to win, especially with us being at home

“There are a lot of games that are winnable and if you win three or four out of your six games then it pushes you up the table again.”

While Kielt suggests a higher position dishes out a more favourable quarter-final draw on paper, all the teams will pose a threat in the last eight.

Kilrea began their league with home league wins over Ballinascreen and eventual champions Bellaghy, with a draw with Swatragh thrown into a promising start.

“I was probably different from most players or certainly a lot of people in the GAA in Derry, I enjoyed the league in the last couple of years,” Kielt admits.

“There was less pressure on. Too many league games in Derry were like a war. This year there was a bit more (bite) in it because there was relegation,” he said, contrasting it to 2022 when nobody faced relegation from the league.

“You find there is a bit of spice in the games anyway.”

Kilrea welcome Steelstown this weekend who drew with Sleacht Néill in their first game. Cahir McMonagle and Ben McCarron hit four points apiece for the Brian Ógs.

Kielt will come up against former county teammates Neil Forester and Mickey McKinney, with the latter the latest in the long line of recent sweeper ‘keepers.

Kilrea’s home theme then continues with a game against Newbridge.

They will finish with trips to Emmet Park, Magherafelt and Loup on the last day.

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