By Geordie McGuckin
A new year, and with a noticeable lengthening of the day most clubs are looking forward to the challenges of 2019 and making appointments as to management.
The resumption of the leagues is only a matter of weeks ahead and most have made appointments as to those who hold the reins in charge of their senior teams.
Erin’s Own Cargin having secured the senior championship for the third time in the past four seasons have secured the same management again for the season ahead with Damien Cassidy returning to the top job.
The Erin’s Own side were involved in possibly one of the best games seen last year when a late, late Tomas McCann goals saw them come from behind to gain access over intense rivals St Gall’s in the championship semi- final before edging out near neighbours Creggan in a dour county decider.
The Bellaghy man, who also enjoyed success with the Wolfe Tones minor team both in gaining county and provincial will again be assisted in his duties at Toome by Ronan Devlin and Kevin Doyle, and they may well prove contenders again as they are about to kick start another season.
Kickham’s Creggan, although denied in their attempts to secure the county title had a great season nonetheless bringing home the Division One league title and have installed the same management structure for another term with Kevin Madden, Gerard Mc Nulty, and Odhran McCann back in charge.
The Kickham’s club enjoyed an excellent season with victory in both the O’Cahan cup and the Reserve Cup accompanying the Eddie Fitzsimmons Cup in residence at the Staffordstown road venue.
Creggan have showed a steady improvement during Madden’s tenure and may well be offering strong challenge again this term.
St John’s have also retained the same management structure with Gearoid Adams, and John Kelly in charge again at Corrigan.
The Whiterock road side, having endured defeat in the 2017 senior decider, losing out to the Hannahstown men on the Glenavy sod, endured the same fate in the semis last term when they were beaten by Creggan.
The Corrigan side is usually up there in the mix and although their dual nature which ensures ambition in both hurling and football may not be ideal the Johnnies may well be contenders.
They contested both football and hurling semis last term and came mighty close in both only bowing out in the former following a replay with the eventual winners and are likely to be in there with a shout again in 2019.
St Gall’s were back in the groove again last term after a couple of seasons when they were not at their best, and the Milltown men came within a few seconds of making another senior championship decider until Tomas Mc Cann’s late wonder goal dashed their hopes.
The former provincial and national champs will look to retain such regained positivity again this term and Sean Kelly will again assume control to lead the Milltown Blues on another offensive, assisted by Paul Mellon, Paul Pollock, and Paul Walsh.
The Lower Fall’s residents will most certainly be well prepared for action again in 2019 and they will again be contenders.
Lamh Dhearg come up short in their quest to retain the title hard earned in 2017 when losing to champions Cargin in a replay last term.
The Hannahstown men did look on their way to another semi-final appearance when they came from behind to lead Cargin in the quarters but the Toome men added a couple of late points to earn a second chance and proved six points superior in the replay.
Lamh Dearg have installed Mairtin Lynch and Terry Mc Crudden for another season in the management roles, and with Conor Murray and Declan Lynch set to return to duty after long term injuries they the Red Hand side may well fancy their chances.
Casement’s Portglenone had a good 2019 season and although the Bannsider’s were put to the sword by a rejuvenated St Gall’s in their championship quarter final assignment they did lower the colours of the Milltown men in both their league meetings.
The Portglenone side have made new appointment in the managerial role with former Derry player Barry Dillon taking the reins at O’ Cahan Park.
The new man in charge will be assisted by Eoin Doherty, and although they will not be burdened by the favourites tag they have a strong talented squad and if they continue to show improvement in 2019 they may well be capable of making a challenge.
St Enda’s have been the real stars of 2018, and now into 2019 and after booking a place in a Croke Park final in three weeks’ time the buzz continues.
Frank Fitzsimmons and his second in command Pat Hughes have led the Glengormley men to County and Provincial success thus far and it would come as a huge surprise if they are not to be reinstated.
St. Enda’s had a useful first season back in division 1 which included a win over Erin’s Own Cargin and creditable performances against all the top sides and will be hoping to push on in the league in 2019 and a first tilt at the Senior Championship.
St Enda’s will move into another category in the season ahead as they will enter the draw for the senior championship and on evidence produced in a youth based squad they are more than well enough equipped to take the uplift in their stride.
St Mary’s Aghagallon struggled to make impact last term but with a strong youth based panel at disposal the men from the Antrim-Armagh border are certainly capable of better.
They have retained the services of Hannahstown man Kevin Murray in the managerial role with John Devlin included in the hot seat positions.
Aghagallon will more than likely soon benefit from the large number from the club who were included on the St Ronan’s side which impressed on the college scene during 2017, and may well be up there offering stern challenge for senior honours sooner, rather than later.
St Teresa’s did seem to be occupied in a mainly rear guard action for most of last term but the Glen road men can mix it with the best when in the mood.
Sean Mc Goldrick has been appointed in the senior management role with further appointments to be made.
They had to dig deep in the latter stages of the 2018 league to retain their Division 1 status and may well be hampered by strength and depth.
St Teresa’s are more than capable of causing problems for the best but although it is more than evident that character is in abundance within it is difficult to envisage them in the role of strong challengers.
St Mary’s Ahoghill have secured former Cargin stalwart Dualtach Johnston to take the reins at Clooney.
Having gained experience aplenty in the green and white of the Erin’s Own men Johnston was part of the John Brennan back room staff which guided the Toome men to back to back senior titles is to be assisted in his new role by Noel Crossey.
Ahoghill appeared to be on the downward trail last term with relegation seemingly looming large on the horizon with only a couple of points secured in the league at the half way juncture. However a strong character laded finish saw them remain unbeaten in their last five assignments to secure their place in the top flight.
The St Mary’s men will not start 2019 cast as favourites to collect silverware but they are more than capable of ruffling a few feathers along the way.
St Brigid’s took the upward path last term and the South Antrim men ensured a return to the top grade following an excellent 2018 season in which they also captured the under-21 title.
Eunan Conway has been reappointed as manager with Andy Magill, Anthony Carleton, and Colly McGuckian assuming roles on the selection committee.
Conway has been involved with the Musgrave Park side for quite a number of years and the bursar at St. Mary’s Grammar School, Magherafelt brings a wealth of knowledge to the job.
Strength and depth is apparent within at St Brigid’s, and although the central ambition may well in consolidation in the short term it is more than likely that they will soon be up there making a challenge for honours.
Gort na Mona have returned to the top table again after more than twenty years. One of the youngest club in the Saffron county, founded early in the 70s made it to the first division in 2007, but such was a short flirtation for the dual club, but following a generation in exile they are back as division two league champions.
Sean Mc Kenna guided the Gorts back to the top with an excellent 2018 season ensuring progress to the intermediate championship decider, and although they were to be edged out by an excellent St Enda’s side in that one they gained fully merited compensation with promotion secured as league champs.
McKenna is back at the helm and although consolidation and the retention of their hard earned status will be their priority, Gort na Mona are more than capable of causing a few upsets.