FORMER Down player Kevin Duffin thinks that it’s time for Ballymartin’s senior team to start making strides on the footballing front – but it’s fair to say that the complications following from the pandemic haven’t helped matters.
Father and son duo Paul and Kevin Duffin are entering their second season as the club’s senior management, and the bedding-in process is still on-going due to the unconventional nature of last year’s campaign.
Kevin, who was a Castlewellan stalwart before an arthritic knee forced him into early retirement after the 2019 season, can’t wait to get going with collective training set to recommence in a matter of days.
His father Paul would surely feel the same and really needs no introduction, having won Down championship medals, represented Bangor in the Irish League, taken St Gall’s to glory in Antrim and served as a selector with the Mourne county.
Kevin said: “We didn’t have that opportunity to really get your teeth stuck into it last year, so there’s been a degree of incoherency which doesn’t suit dad as he’s very well-organised and methodical by nature.
“It’s certainly made it more difficult – personally there’s nerves and excitement and I want to build a good rapport, and the lack of certainty and collective training has made it more difficult.
“In my own playing days, I started in January and mucked in for the next eight or ten months, whereas last year it was very disjointed.
“Hopefully this year will be different.”
Ballymartin are an intermediate team, but they play their league football in Division Three.
Emigration struck at the heart of the club when the economic bubble burst more than a decade ago, but Duffin sees no reason why they can’t at least take the step up to Division Two.
“They’ve struggled in the last eight to 10 years, and when the chairman first met us, he admitted they took the eye off the ball in terms of player progression and even their underage structures.
“A lot boys went to Australia or England for work when things went belly up around 2010, and in a sense they’re still recovering.
“They do have a good squad of players, and having played in Division One and Two myself, I don’t really see them as a Division Three team – and that’s no disrespect to any other clubs, because when Castlewellan went down to Division Two in the early part of my career, it wasn’t enjoyable as everyone got dug in and were determined to beat you.
It’s probably the same sort of thing with Ballymartin in Division Three.
“The facilities they have are absolutely fantastic, they’ve really got their ducks in a row. Their coaching structure is in much better place as well.
“So I suppose the last thing to be developed is their senior team and hopefully dad and I can bring them to the next stage.”
Duffin is still in his early 30s, and would still be playing only for that aforementioned arthritic knee. He was somewhat tempted to stay on as a panel member for Castlewellan in 2020, but when he was asked by his father Paul to get involved in managing Ballymartin, he saw no reason to prevaricate.
“I have arthritis in my right knee and it’s kinda pushing my kneecap out of place and I have the early onset of artistic in my left knee as well. My knees were swelling up after matches and it was limiting me so badly so the writing was on the wall early doors in 2019.
“I wasn’t able to do what I was normally able to do and it frustrated me badly, and that was difficult to deal with.
“I was still in two minds whether to stay on the Castlewellan panel knowing I wouldn’t be able to play, and I also didn’t want to take some young fella’s place.
“So I was weighing things up when dad asked me, and I suppose it just made sense to take up his offer, especially as I’d done a bit of coaching.
“It’s also a good opportunity for me as dad has had plenty of experience, and I felt more comfortable and at ease than if I was asked by someone who I didn’t have a personal relationship with, so it was an easy decision to make.”
Duffin also says that he’s able to keep active even if his days of playing Gaelic Football are now in the past.
“It was the best decision for my long-term health.
“My dad broke a bone in his knee four or five years ago and at the same time I got aot a scan and an MRA and it was broken down for me that I’d that you’ve arthritis and no cartilage, and there was nothing more I coulod do.
“If I played on competitvely it would hinder me in future years. I’m still able to hill walking and mountain biking.
“I’ve been up Slieve Donard in recent days with my wife and dog.
“If I was unable to do things like that, life would be a lot more difficult, and playing on would potentially scupper that.”