By Niall Gartland
IT’S very much one step at a time for Swatragh hurling manager Seamus Bradley.
Bradley lined out in Swatragh’s one and only Derry Senior Championship title success back in 2012, but just because they’re fielding in this year’s Ulster Junior Championship doesn’t mean things are going badly at the club.
Derry County Board have run the hurling championship in a group format, splitting the eight hurling teams into two sections.
With Sleacht Néill also in Swatragh’s group, it was always going to be difficult and they were eventually pitted in the Derry Junior final where they got the better of Banagher.
Now they’re looking ahead to a tough-sounding provincial opener on Saturday against Donegal representatives St Eunan’s. Their opponents boast a proud record in their native county and overcame Omagh, St Enda’s in the quarter-finals of Ulster with plenty to spare last Saturday, but Swatragh likewise were full value for their opening day win over Kilclief.
Bradley commented: “St Eunan’s are an excellent club and there’s only ever a puck of the ball between themselves and Setanta in Donegal. You saw the performance Setanta gave against Ballinascreen last weekend in the Ulster Intermediate Championship, that shows you the strength of Donegal hurling.
“Both St Eunan’s and Setanta provide a lot of players to the Donegal team, so we’re expecting it’ll be a tough game.”
Swatragh didn’t get the opportunity to play provincial-level hurling when they won the Ulster Intermediate title in 2020 as Covid-19 led to the decision to place the Ulster series on hold.
With that in mind they’re very excited to get the chance this time around.
Bradley said: “Absolutely, it’s great to be involved and have the lads still hurling at this time of year. From what I’ve heard from other clubs who have fielded in Ulster, it’s beneficial in subsequent years as it keeps the lads together.”
The long-term ambition is to get back competing for the big senior prize in Derry. It’s not going to be easy with Sleacht Néill winning year-after-year-after-year but Bradley holds them in the highest esteem.
“It’s definitely the ultimate long-term goal. When we won the senior title in 2012, it was the culmination of a lot of sustained underage success and that’s what it takes.
“Sleacht Néill have been way ahead but a rising tide lifts all boats and they’re the benchmark for everyone else. You can’t expect them to make it easier for the rest of us.
“The target is to get up to that level and the first thing is becoming consistently competitive with them, but that’ll take a lot of hard work.”