When the dust settled on last season, Ballinascreen would’ve had lingering thoughts from their semi-final.
What could’ve happened had Niall Holly’s 22nd minute punt not have ended up in the back of their net?
A Benny Heron goal sunk Bellaghy but they needed two Ryan Scullion saves to hold off Greenlough.
But at 0-3 all against Coleraine, they were well-placed. Championship football is littered with teams who ride their luck but ‘Screen have always had Coleraine’s number. What if?
Injury to Heron and Barry Grant left ‘Screen struggling. The players, reportedly unhappy with tactics, voted out manager Barry Dillon and the club appointed Liam Bradley as his successor.
After the mid-season break and with Heron back in the fold, tearing defences to pieces, ‘Screen were a totally different team. Week by week, they began to assemble some pre-championship form.
This season ‘The Baker’ is back in post, with Mickey McBride and Noel Browne in the backroom team.
There is an addition in the form of ex-referee Benny Quinn who has hung up his whistle. As a former underage coach in the club, Quinn set some of the senior team on their way including Carlus McWilliams who, under Quinn’s guidance, played on a team beaten by Ballinderry in a Féile final.
Brendan Herron decided to retire at the end of last season, after soldiering at midfield and full-forward since joining from Lamh Dhearg.
Dermot McBride, who has had injury problems, is back for another season and is an invaluable defensive option.
From their recent minor winning team, Conal Logan, Ciaran, Ryan and Niall Doyle have joined the panel. The latter was a vital cog at midfield last season for Derry minors.
With an ageing profile down the core of their senior team, Daniel McCullagh, Jack Heron, Callum White and Ruairi O’Hagan have also stepped up from last season’s minor grade.
Ballinascreen entered the Ulster league where they mixed and matched their panel from week to week. They were beaten by Latton, Greenlough and Dromore, before being hammered by Kilcoo in the knock-out stages.
They recently entertained Claudy in a challenge game as they bid to open their season with a tasty trip to Glen this weekend.
Ballinascreen were one of four clubs that ended up on 12 points, but a superior score difference – the most of which came with the drubbing of Claudy – kept them out of the play-offs.
Ryan Scullion will have a full season of experience behind him between the posts.
In defence Ronan Devlin, Michael McShane and Philip McGlade will be the defensive mainstays.
Where Carlus McWilliams plays at is a matter for debate. His positional sense and always chipping in with a score could see him part of their midfield plans. Kieran Conway’s burst on the overlap could be a useful tool here as well.
Marty Bradley is a welcome set of fresh legs to their central third, to complement the brawn and power of Paul Burns and Philip Bradley.
It’s in attack where Liam Bradley will have his fingers crossed for an injury-free season from Benny Heron.
His power and the ability to turn leaves him virtually unmarkable close to goal, proving he can get enough ball. He scored 5-35 in the last eight games of the season to keep ‘Screen up.
Where they get the rest of the scores from will be a worry. Shane Mulgrew’s free-taking is unerring. Of the 0-11 they pegged against Bellaghy in the minor win, six came from the foot of Ciaran Doyle who operated mostly in defence.
Conor McGovern and Gary Conway bring a much-valued industry to the team but there will be an onus on Barry Grant to full recover from last season’s injury and give them more attacking threat.
Verdict: Despite not taking home the bacon in recent seasons, ‘Screen are nearly always guaranteed a run in the championship, but safety first in what will be an ultra-competitive 12 team league will come first.
R1 – Glen (A)
R2 – Loup (H)
R3 – Bellaghy (A)
R4 – Magherafelt (H)
Management: Liam Bradley, Mickey McBride, Benny Quinn and Noel Browne.
KEY PLAYER – Benny Heron.
ONE TO WATCH – Niall Doyle.
Get Tuesday's County Derry Post for a look inside all the camps ahead of this weekend's games.
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