Ballinderry's belief in their football pedigree has never wavered

By Thomas NiblockBBC Sport NI
Extra weight training Ballinderry means are guaranteed to field a strong side in Sunday's Ulster Club final against Glenswilly.

In 2011 Ballinderry raised £230,000 to build a new pitch.

It's a phenomenal amount considering there are about 350 homes in the parish.

During a celebration dinner, several players were interviewed and most of them repeated the phrase "unfinished business" in relation to their attempts to win a first Ulster Club title in 10 years.

But a poor first half was ultimately to cost the Derry club as Cross beat them in the But a poor first half was ultimately to cost the Derry club as Cross beat them in the Ulster semi-final on the way to collecting another All-Ireland the following Spring.

From the outside looking in, Ballinderry seemed the best in Derry but looked some way short of good enough to win an Ulster title.

However, from the inside looking out, the belief that Ballinderry, on their day, are better than anyone else, was unwavering.

Someone who exemplifies that belief is goalkeeper Michael Conlon.

A former Derry number one, Conlon converted his shed into a gym and he regularly puts his team-mates Ballinderry through strength and conditioning sessions in his facility.

While most people were still in their beds, I arrived this week to see Michael training some of the Shamrock players who will be strutting their stuff in Armagh this Sunday. It was staggeringly impressive.

In 12 weeks, Conlon transformed his body from a 'normal' goalkeeper to something resembling Gerard Butler in the film '300' - basically a gladiator.

"Well I thought if I trained every day in the morning, that would look after my fitness," says Conlon, matter of factly.

"Then when we train at night with the club, I could concentrate solely on goalkeeping. It gave me a focus."

Last weekend Magherafelt played Ballinderry in the Derry U21 championship semi-final.

Magherafelt won comfortably, but that was largely down to the fact that six Ballinderry players who play senior for the club didn't line out as the Shamrocks effectively gave up the chance to win another county title.

All in preparation for Sunday.

Many clubs would make the same decision, some perhaps wouldn't.

Manager Gary McDaid looks at the challenges that Glenswilly face in the Ulster Club final against Ballinderry

It all demonstrates the focus of Ballinderry in 2013.

They experienced the pain of Ulster club final defeat twice over the past decade.

As Conlon says:"It's the fear of going through that heartache that drives you on more than the success of actually winning."

But on Wednesday Ballinderry were dealt a severe blow as club stalwart Eugene McGeehan died suddenly, leaving the parish in shock.

His sons Gavin, Ryan and Cathal are Ballinderry to the core. So was their dad.

"He was the man locking up the changing rooms at half ten or eleven o'clock at night," says BBC Radio Ulster commentator and Ballinderry legend Adrian McGuckin.

"He was the one who locked the gates. He's a former chairman of the club and a Shamrock to the core. It's a devastating blow to everyone in the area."

On Sunday most expect Martin McKinless's Shamrocks squad to follow in the footsteps of 1981 and 2001, the club's two previous teams who won the Ulster club championship.

The class of 2002 lifted the All-Ireland in Thurles as Croke Park was redeveloped. Glenswilly are capable of winning on Sunday but the focus of this Ballinderry team will give them the edge.

Eugene McGeehan's importance to the club doesn't need an Ulster Championship, but it's a name that will be mentioned many times on Sunday as Ballinderry aim to return to the summit of Ulster Club football.

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