Experienced heads driving high standards at Blackhill

By Niall Gartland

BLACKHILL are counting down the days to their third Ulster Junior Championship final appearance in less than a decade, but don’t be mistaken into thinking that they’re somehow undeserving of another final berth.

The Monaghan side reached the final in 2016, losing out to the Rock from Tyrone, before making amends three years later with a brilliant performance against Buncrana.

You may wonder why they’re back again for another shot at provincial glory but sometimes relegations happen even with the best will in the world and this isn’t a club blessed with big numbers.

Instead they’ve been spurred on by a steady core of experienced players who drive serious standards in the club, and they’ve been in rampant form en route to Saturday’s showdown against an equally impressive Arva side.

Manager Paudie Finnegan, a native of Magheracloone, believes that the side punch above their weight thanks to the commitment of their players.

“Blackhill are a very small but very tight-knit club on the outskirts of Castleblayney. They definitely don’t have huge numbers, sometimes there’s only been 12 or 14 lads at training and we have a panel of around 20 or 21 people to pick from.

“But what we do have is very dedicated players and there’s a core group that have really driven on standards for years and all the younger lads have driven in behind that.”

Blackhill breezed past Tyrone champions Fintona last Saturday with the razor sharp Philip Donnelly contributing 2-4 in their 2-10 to 0-7 victory in Kingspan Breffni. Fintona are no bad side but Finnegan says the team had their homework done and carried out their gameplan to the letter.

“We knew that Fintona had a lot of quality in their side so we analysed their last few matches and saw that there were quite a few players who needed to be tagged. We were happy with how we dealt with their main threats and how the boys stuck to the game plan.”

While Blackhill have serious pedigree in Ulster, getting through Monaghan was a minefield so it’s not as if they started the season dreaming of provincial glory.

“Look, it was great to get a craic at this but if you look back at our own championship in Monaghan, we were underdogs in the quarter-final, semi-final and final so we had to take it one step at a time.

“Things do open up in Ulster a bit, it’s a different dynamic and you don’t know the personnel in other teams just as well. You do as much research as you can but it’s not the same as playing the teams you face year-in year-out in Monaghan.”

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