Gavin Cullen and Cockhill are ready to raise the bar again as they go in search of an unprecedented SEVENTH Four Lanterns Ulster Senior League crown in a row.
Cockhill have been League and League Cup winners in each of the last six seasons, but Cullen insists the desire remains as strong as ever around the Charlie O’Donnell Sports Ground.
Cockhill begin their latest title defence this Sunday when they go to Ramelton to take on Swilly Rovers, now under the management of Tony McNamee.
Cockhill were put to the pin of their collar by Letterkenny Rovers last season and took the crown via a play-off win at Dry Arch Park.
Cullen has added significantly to his ranks over the summer with the likes of Benny Fildara, Denim McLaughlin, Lee McColgan, Lee McCallion, Ethan Canning, Conor McNamee and Bart Wesolowski all recruited.
“If we ease up, we won’t win the League,” says Cullen.
“The hunger is still there. Training has been decent. We’re still short a few. I see the hunger in the players. They still want to achieve.
“Last year was a big test for the group and we passed it with flying colours in the end.It was probably as good a League to win as the first one.
“We looked tired and beaten and then, all of a sudden, we did what we did at the end and it rejuvenated us again.
“I’m very happy with what we’ve brought in. We have added to the squad. We got stretched too much last season and players tired.
“I felt that we needed freshness. I aimed for young players, fresh legs and players with a hunger and a point to prove.”
Two of his players – Jimmy Bradley and Peter Doherty – are on international duty with Ireland’s Regions Cup team in Romania this week. He has a former FAI Intermediate Player of the Year in Malachy McDermott and Mark Moran has previously been on Finn Harps’ books.
“I don’t see it as my job to keep players happy,” Cullen says of his squad’s size and strength.
“This is my fourth year as a manger and I’ve never had an issue with a player knocking on my door.
“The way I manage the team, I be honest with everyone and give them a fair opportunity. Everyone gets opportunities and chances. I pick a team to suit the game or the opposition and the team is picked on merit. It’s up to them if they play or not.
“We have good characters in our dressing room. They enjoy being here and there’s a group mentality there. We have people who are here for the right reasons and there’s no messing with them. The new guys have bought into that.
“The way we run things has surprised them and they’ve not experienced that before. It all augers well for the season for us.”
Cullen had 16 different players on the mark last season with goals.
And the former Harps goalkeeper says his their know-how in winning games has proved their greatest asset of late.
He says: “We find ways of winning games, even if we don’t play well, which is great. Sometimes you have to dig deep and find a winner late on. We do have a knack of that.
“The key to our success is that everyone chips in.”
Letterkenny Rovers, who have recruited BJ Banda, Jonny Bonner and Matty Harkin, start their campaign at Traigh-A-Loch on Sunday against Fanad United. Fanad have seen Tony McNamee and Oisin McMenamin – who contributed almost 30 goals between them last season – depart, with the former now back in Swilly’s colours.
Letterkenny manager Eamonn McConigley is concerned that his team could be lagging behind Cockhill, even at this early stage, following a 3-1 reversal in the League Cup.
“We’re far behind,” McConigley said.
“We had a late season and we’ve had a bit of a hangover from it. Hopefully we can catch up on things. It’ll take us a while. Between work commitments other things, we’ve been unable to get much of a pre-season.”
Four Lanterns Ulster Senior League
Sunday, September 23, 2pm
Fanad United v Letterkenny Rovers Marty McGarrigle
Swilly Rovers v Cockhill Celtic Marty Quinn
Tuesday, September 25, 8pm
Bonagee United v Finn Harps Reserves