STEELSTOWN manager Hugh McGrath is likely to be without the services of key half-back Neil Forrester for a game he believes could have a huge impact on the future of Gaelic Games in the city.
Michael WIlson reports
Tomorrow’s H&A Mechanical Services Division One/Two Relegation-Promotion Play-off against Sean O’Leary’s, Newbridge in O’Cahan Park (2.00pm) has already been described as the biggest in the club’s progressive 25-year history but McGrath claims the impact of a potential victory could stretch even further than Pairc Bhrid.
Not since Doire Colmcille was mixing it with the likes of Ballinderry and Dungiven over 30 years ago has a city club threatened to compete at Derry’s top table but Steelstown are just 60 minutes from bridging that gap.
“I think some people around the club and in the town in general underestimate what promotion would mean for the club and the city,” explained McGrath.
“We are well aware that gaelic games are not the No. 1 sport in the town but it certainly has the potential to be. If we were to have the likes of Conleith Gilligan, Enda Muldoon; the likes of Ballinderry, Dungiven or Bellaghy coming to play regularly it would lift the game to another level in the city and could bring every club on.”
Promotion though is far from a formality with the O’Leary’s strong favourites to retain their Division One status and McGrath is under no illusions about the size of the task facing his young team.
“Newbridge have quality all over the field and obviously, as the senior team, they come in as favourites. Michael Bateson is a quality player with a superb engine. The last time out against Castledawson we watched him score four points from centre-half back which shows the influence he can have on games.
“At the other end of the pitch Danny Mullholland is a real talent and we will need to keep a close eye on him. He is an excellent ‘goal-getter’ but we are not a team that likes to single opposition players out. We have our own system of play and prefer to stick to that rather than concentrating on the other team.”
Steelstown have already passed up one shot at promotion when an understrength 15 were defeated in the Division Two League final by Ulster Intermediate Club Championship finalists, Craigbane in Celtic Park a fortnight ago. Forrester was absent that day and his chances of playing tomorrow are rated at no more than 30%. Influential full-back Tony Ling is another to miss out but McGrath will welcome back Paul O’Hea and Liam Heffernan for a second shot at glory.
“Training has been fairly relaxed this week, probably more so than before the Craigbane game. The boys have stepped it up when they’ve had to but they certainly seem less nervous than they were before the Craigbane league decider.”
The form of Stephen Cleary could be key for Steelstown, especially as he is likely to line up against Newbridge key man, Bateson. That is a battle which could decide the game but McGrath believes it is up to Cleary’s team mates to ease the burden from the talented front man. If that happens, he believes the city side could emulate the meteoric rise of Eoghan Rua, Coleraine.
“Up front Stephen needs a bit of support, we are aware of that and it could be the missing link for us. If some of the players around him click on Saturday and chip in with a few scores, that could make all the difference.
“We are lucky in that we have good numbers coming through and to have senior football at the club would be fantastic for these young players, it would be something to aim for.
“We are a very ambitious club and promotion would be the next step for us although we are under no illusions about how difficult Newbridge will be. Ultimately though our aim is to do a ‘Coleraine’,” he added.
See page 81
for full match preview