STEELSTOWN BRIAN Og’s ace marksman, Stephen Cleary will make a surprise return to bolster the panel as the club prepares for its long awaited bow in Senior Football this Sunday afternoon. (Throw-in 3.30 p.m)
Simon collins reports
Hugh McGrath will lead his troops into an historic match against last season’s senior county finalists, Kilrea at Pairc Bhrid in what will be a momentous occasion for the local club.
In fact Sunday’s match will be the biggest game in its 25 year history and the Steelstown boss is delighted his star forward - who scored that late goal in the promotion play-off against Newbridge - has made a surprise return from his employment in Amsterdam to help the cause.
Cleary’s unexpected involvement will no doubt raise a few eyebrows amongst those outside the club, but not for McGrath who was always confident the talented full forward couldn’t resist the urge to help the club in its finest hour.
“Stephen will be home for the game,” confirmed McGrath. “He has worked as hard as anyone in terms of getting to where we are now and there’s no way that he was going to miss the game.
“He’s being following our training programme rigorously and he’ll be in as good a shape as he possibly can be. He’s the sort of guy that nothing fazes him he’ll just go out and you’ll see that on Sunday, he will perform I know it.”
Both Cleary and Derry panellist, Neil Forrester have been notable absentees from the pre-season preparations at Steelstown but McGrath believes their absence has worked to the team’s favour, with others stepping-up to the plate.
“We have the likes of Aidan Cleary and Ryan Devine who are starting to step up; Daniel Jackson and Mark Brennan, who can all take a score.
“It was probably actually a good thing that Stephen was away in pre-season because it forced other guys to come to the fore and we had some big scoring returns over the Ulster League campaign.
“Neil is another guy who just slotted back in this week like he was never away. He enjoys the role he plays for us. I know he’s asked to do some slightly different things at county level so I think it’s a bit of a relief when he comes back that’s he able to get back into the swing of what he’s so used to doing and he revels in it.”
The Madams Bank road venue will be packed on Sunday and while a physical Kilrea side, boasting players of the calibre of Charlie and James Kielt, Brian Og McAlary, Liam Morrow and Benny Quigg, will go into the game as firm favourites, McGrath is relishing the challenge.
“This is what all the work last year was for. We’re keen to get going and get the game started to see exactly where we’re at. “There’s no point in doing all this work and going out in the first game and not enjoying it.
“Our aim for the season is 10 points to start off with. If and when we reach that then we’ll re-evaluate that target and we’ll create a new target. And fingers crossed we get two on Sunday.
“We have our own strengths and we’ll stick to them. That’s what you play this sport for - to put ourselves up against and test ourselves against the top teams.
“So we know what way we play and we’ll stick to it and hopefully that’s enough to take us over the line on the day,” he concluded.