By Shaun Casey
BALLYHOLLAND completed their first two targets of 2023 before the league campaign finished, securing promotion to the top tier along with a league title, and they picked up their Division Two trophy last Friday evening.
With two games left, Damian McCrink’s side had already sealed their fate, and returned to the topflight at the first time of asking.
“Last year in Down, four teams were relegated. Ourselves, Downpatrick, Rostrevor and Castlewellan,” explained McCrink.
“So, we knew how difficult it was going to be to make that quick return with those teams vying for the same spots and then you add in Saul and Saval and Glenn and teams like that.
“What we were able to achieve was that we were consistent in terms of picking up points. We only dropped one point prior to winning the league and that was away to Downpatrick.
“It was important for the club as a whole. Ballyholland had been in the first division consistently for over ten years and it’s not without it’s struggles but it was a big part of our identity to establish ourselves as a first division team.
“It was disappointing to be relegated last year and there was a huge effort from the players to make sure that we rectified that as quickly as possible.
“The commitment that they have made from the early months right through has been incredible and it’s a testament to them.
“They were very professional about how they went about their business and that it (relegation) was only a bounce and that it wasn’t going to be a long -term problem because you can get sucked into it and you really need a strong squad to get the consistency week in, week out.”
That leaves the Ballyholland men in good stead heading into the championship. They face the difficult task of Loughinisland, who finished second in Division One, in the opening round.
“Loughisinland have had a great season to date,” added McCrink. “They had an opportunity to win the league last week against Carryduff, so they have come up and established themselves as a Division One team and are looking at vying for a championship I’m sure.
“It’s certainly not an easy draw for us but we have had history with Loughinisland in the championship in recent years and we’ve managed to come out on the right side of very close games that have gone to extra-time. It’ll be another close game with only a kick of the ball in it.”
McCrink offered huge credit towards his management team for their effort so far this season, including his co-manager Michael Walsh, who has been a massive contributor to their success.
“Michael Walsh managed Down at different levels and he’s been a hugely influential character and he deserves great credit for the work that he has done with the boys.
“He’s very much the driving force within the group.
“We have Paul Murphy and Ronan Murtagh, two ex-county men, we have a strong management team to keep the thing going.”