By Shaun Casey
MULLAGHBAWN manager Peter McDonnell believes the “challenge starts now” for his side as the county men will be back on club duty following Armagh’s All-Ireland exit to Galway.
McDonnell’s side, one of the few in the division with no county representatives, currently sit second in the Division 1B league table and take on promotion contenders Silverbridge and Ballymacnab in their next two games.
They’re heading into those clashes in great form, having won their last six outings. In recent weeks they’ve overcome Clan na Gael, Grange and Sarsfields despite carrying a number of injury concerns.
“That’s not a true reflection of the league status at all. When you look through the teams in the division and who they have to come back in, the reality of the leagues will become more apparent now in this second half when these county men start to be reintegrated with their clubs.
“You can’t take anything for granted. The whole league structures, there’s no real place where you can take refuge, you’re either pushing to go up or trying to avoid relegation, there’s very little middle ground.
“I think last year in our division St Peter’s hit 10 points and were relegated, and I think the next team (Cullyhanna) had 13 points and there’s three going out of our division this year, so we are not out of the relegation trouble even though we’re sitting second from top at the moment.
“We’ve been taking the field with a skeleton staff the last three games. Our last three results have been very good, I have to say I’ve been very pleased with the way the lads applied themselves.
“Again, to put it into context, those teams were all missing people as well. But listen points are points; it doesn’t matter who you get them off or when you get them.
“Now is when they challenge starts. There’s no point in taking the foot off the pedal now, this is when there’ll be serious questions asked of us.”
Safety is the first concern and the former Armagh manager, who guided the Orchard County to their last Ulster title in 2008 and spent six seasons as u-20 boss, has been blooding new players through.
“The dilemma is not knowing where safe exists so it’s all to play for. We’re not getting carried away with anything, we’ve had numerous knock backs throughout the year, we’ve had an opportunity to blood some young players.
“We’ve had two years of a lot of new faces coming into our senior panel and they’re keen. We’ve a lot to do, we’ve a lot of growing up to do and maturing to do but it’s good to have youngsters that can play a bit of ball coming through at the same time.”
Mullaghbawn also learned their Championship fate last week and will take on defending champions Clann Éireann in the opening round.
“I put a lot of Clann Éireann players through my hands between u-21s and u-20s so I’m well aware of the talent that they have but it’s a straight knockout, it’s all on the day and we only have to beat them once.”