By Shaun Casey
THE balance and blend of youth and experienced helped Newtownbutler secure the Junior Championship title this season and the Fermanagh men have strengthened their squad since the county final.
According to manager Darren Chapman, a number of more experienced players that weren’t available for the county championship have returned to the fold ahead of their Ulster Club clash with Antrim side Na Piarsaigh on Sunday.
“Training has been very, very good, we’ve prepared really well,” said Chapman. “We’ve actually strengthened the squad after the county final, we brought back in a couple of more experienced players who hadn’t been available through injury and work during the championship.
“They’ve brought a bit more size and experience to the squad ahead of the Ulster campaign and our preparations have been very positive so far.”
One of the older heads Ryan Carson, now 40 years of age, has enjoyed a wonderful year and he was responsible for 1-1 in the county final win over Aghadrumsee.
“Ryan’s been in great shape all year, as have all of our older guys. I suppose this year generally it’s been about the blend of youth and experience; it’s been better this year.
“We’ve got a few younger players that have all bedded in very well along with the likes of Diarmaid King and company, who had come in the year before.
“There’s a nice balance there. It’s a younger age profile and that’s something that’s going to continue for a number of years because we do have a number of strong underage players coming though at the moment.
“The profile of the squad is very good, also in terms of the size and the types of players that we’ve got so we’re very happy with where we are at.”
Newtownbutler faced a lot of pressure this season as they were “red hot favourites to win the Junior”, but now some of that tension has been released and they can enjoy their crack at Ulster.
“We gave the guys a couple of days off; we regrouped on the Friday night after the county final. The boys were entitled to celebrate it, it’s six years from we last won the Junior Championship, we got beat in the final last year and we’ve been under a lot of pressure all year because we were red hot favourites to win the Junior this year.
“It’s nice to let the release valve off a wee bit before we regroup and start preparing for the Ulster club championship. The boys enjoyed the win.
“I was up in Breffni Park on Sunday at Craigbane and Drumlane and it was a good game of football but the sending off ultimately decided that tie, in my opinion.
“That’s what you get in Ulster football, you can’t make mistakes, you’ve got to be disciplined and keep playing to the very end.
“I learned that when I was with Cavan Gaels (2011). We were ahead against Glenswilly the whole way through, and they got an injury time penalty to beat us that year. It’s a very difficult competition to compete in but we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”