By Michael McMullan
PORTGLENONE manager John McKeever feels winning their maiden Senior League success is another important building block towards the club’s first ever championship.
The Casements begin their “difficult group” away to Naomh Éanna next weekend before games with Lamh Dhearg and neighbours Ahoghill.
McKeever will have to plan without joint captains Dermot McAleese and Ryan Convery after recent operations. Convery went under the knife on a knee injury that ended his season with McAleese also on the sidelines until the semi-final stages should Portglenone still be in the race for the McNamee Cup.
“It (league win) meant an awful lot to the Portglenone people, the community, it was great for the parish,” McKeever, who referred to a special photo with the winning team and young underage players.
“We finished leagues in second and third in the past, but we just couldn’t get over the line, like in the championship.
“To finally get a bit of silverware and have something to show for their efforts was brilliant for everyone around the club.”
McKeever, who has won titles with other clubs and with Holy Trinity College, Cookstown, spoke of the pride of helping his own club get their hands on silverware.
He paid tribute to everyone in the club who put their shoulder to the wheel in their junior and intermediate ranks. Now their underage coaching plan is matched by their impressive facilities.
Winning the league wasn’t an initial target until Portglenone found themselves top of the pile with “seven or eight” games to go.
Before that, the focus was getting a panel of 25 players to a level where they would play at senior level and absorb any injuries coming down the tracks.
“We’d have been rotating players in every single game this year,” said McKeever. “There wouldn’t be many players who could argue they didn’t get much game time throughout the league.
“In the last league, we were down a number of players but the players who came in for them had played a number of games this year so they were comfortable in the environment they were in.”
McKeever points to a squad with an average age in the mid-twenties with Oisin Doherty, Ciaran and Aidan McAleese thickening up their attacking options.
He also hopes they can follow in the footsteps of Cargin, Lamh Dhearg and Cargin by backing up league success with championship glory.
“It was a good stepping stone for those clubs,” he said. “To win a championship would be the big aim around Portglenone and that’s what we would be pushing for.
“It might be this year, it might be next year but we now feel it is more achievable after getting over this latest barrier (winning the league).”