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Clann na Banna hoping to close the gap

Clann na Banna

By Niall McCoy

CLANN na Banna manager Ronan McAlinden has said that Drumgath’s deadly display against the Cottage Park men in 2020 will provide the benchmark for the side for the incoming season.

The Banbridge outfit reached the last eight of the Intermediate Championship for the first time in over a decade, but their opponents went to town on them and recorded a 0-20 to 0-7 win in Mayobridge.

While they would go on to lose narrowly to Saul in the final, McAlinden said that Drumgath’s performance that day provided a perfect example of where his team needs to get to.

“We played Drumgath in the first round and as they were in the other section in the league, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of their quality.

“They beat us that day and then we went into the qualifiers and had a win over Newry Bosco which was the first championship win in three or four years.

“In the next round it was a local derby against Tullylish which was probably Clann na Banna’s best performance of last year.

“The chairman phoned me and said it was the first time reaching the quarter-final in something like 11 years.

“Then unfortunately it was Drumgath again and you couldn’t blame referees, you couldn’t blame missed chances – on the day Drumgath were just far better.

“Whenever we have been doing Zoom sessions or online or whatever, I have been constantly reminding the players that Drumgath are the level we need to be aspiring to this year.

“We want to close the gap this year. If someone was to tell me that we were to beat Drumgath in the championship, I’d like to think that it would be towards the latter stages because they are a very strong team at this level.

“In terms of 2021 you’re targeting the quarters again and hopefully improving on it.”

This is McAlinden’s second year with Clann na Banna and it’s understandable why they appointed him as bainisteoir given that he ended St Peter’s long wait for the Armagh title in 2018.

The Portadown native has been impressed with the Mourne club, both by their on-field and off-field enthusiasm – even if lockdown has put the brakes on slightly.

“Whenever I went into Banbridge last year it was a totally new experience for me,” said McAlinden. “The teams I had coached before had been out in Boston or back in Armagh where I’m from.

“There are a great amount of club people working hard and a very pro-active committee. They are determined to promote Gaelic games but they are also very big into the cultural aspects too.

“Last year the chairperson was Willie Gribben and the treasurer was Pat McGarry and both of those stepped down at the AGM. I have been speaking to their replacements on the phone but I haven’t actually met them face-to-face. That’s just the way the things are at the minute.”

We are now just a week and a half, pandemic situation permitting, from teams being allowed to return to training in pods of 15.

Earlier this year, Down GAA said that they would hope to run a longer league campaign than last year with promotion and relegation reinstated as well as the usual backdoor championship.

McAlinden said that it was probably the best solution in the current situation and is hopeful that by the end of April the pods of 15 may be extended to bigger numbers.

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