By Niall Gartland
BALLYHAISE had an exemplary league campaign in the heady heights of Division One football, but their manager Damien Keaney knows the championship is an entirely different kettle of fish.
Last year’s beaten Intermediate finalists are bidding to go one step further than last year (they lost the final by a point to Butlersbridge) and they’ve already notched up two victories in the group stages.
They can make sure of their place in the knock-out rounds ahead of schedule if they overcome Bailieborough this weekend, and their manager isn’t looking too far down the line just yet.
“Intermediate football is very competitive,” said Keaney, “and it’s proved very difficult to win in the last number of years. There’s always a lot of teams in contention.
“It was good to play in Division One and gain that experience but the championship is a different story and brings its own battles and levels of competition.”
Keaney is in his first season as standalone manager of the team. Last season he was part of a four-man management ticket alongside club natives Pat Duggan, Aidan Watters and Noel Walshe but this year he’s the sole man in charge.
“We did have a very good set-up last year. I’ve stayed on as manager and brought in an excellent coach, Ciaran Owens, and Noel Tierney is in as selector. We have equally as good a team on and off the pitch so we’ll be hoping to go one better in the championship.”
Ballyhaise have had plenty of youthful talent coming through, and that’s likely to remain the case for a while yet after winning last year’s Division Two title at u-17 level.
But even with that, they really did have a super league campaign, finishing fourth in Division One and claiming some massive scalps on the way, including a resounding victory over heavy hitters Crosserlough.
Keaney said: “We started up early and got a good level of fitness under our belts. The league went well but you have to remember that a lot of those teams had to play without their county players for a large portion of their campaigns. To some extent that may have helped us but you still have to go out and do the business on the pitch and our lads did that.”
Keaney has a wealth of managerial experience at this stage, starting off at his home club Killygarry before more recent stints at Killeshandra and Lacken. He’s enjoying his time at the flourishing Ballinagh club.
“They’ve a great interest in football and talking about football and that’s something I enjoy doing as well. They’re very friendly and courteous and there’s a real passion in the club, so I’m really enjoying it.”