Club focus: Ballymoney United
On the face of things, Ballymoney United have endured a horrible 2014, but new manager Russell Stirling believes he can turn things around.
A 4-2 defeat to Dollingstown on Saturday in the Intermediate Cup meant the Riada Stadium club are out of all the cup competitions and rock bottom of Championship Two, with not a single win to their name. With two teams set to be relegated out of the Northern Ireland Football League at the end of the season, things look bleak for the old B Division club.
But manager Russell Stirling is confident that he can save the club from the dreaded drop.
“There are 18 games left and we're only five points behind both Coagh United and Tobermore United, so we're certainly not giving up. Four or five wins could be enough to save us from relegation.
“I only took over a few weeks ago but I've been around the club since the start of the season. Believe it or not I was actually managing the Under 11s at the start of season.
“I could see things weren't right. Everything was doom and gloom and the players hadn't bought into the club. Although the results might not suggest it, I can assure you we've improved. We've gone from losing games by large margins to giving top half sides like Sport & Leisure and Newington a game.
“We got our first point of the season against Coagh United and I believe the first win isn't far away. One of our big problems has been that a number of our senior players have suffered injuries, so I've regularly been fielding a side full of young players. We've got some excellent prospects at this club who have came through our youth set-up but we need a little bit more experience on the field.”
At the end of the season, the bottom Championship Two club will be relegated out of League football. If one of the regional division winners is Championship-ready, then the 14th-placed team will also be relegated. The relegated clubs will have to find a regional intermediate division to play in – last season's unfortunate club Killymoon Rangers joined the Ballymena & Provincial Intermediate League.
Ballymoney boss Stirling is honest enough to admit that relegation is a frightening prospect, particularly for a club who have played in the Irish League since the 80s.
“Relegation is scary, as it almost feels like you will fall into oblivion. You wonder whether we will ever be able to come back up.
“But I'm taking a positive outlook. We've brought through a number of young players this season which is something to be proud of, and we're far from doomed yet.
“We will keep working hard and fighting for every point. If you're not prepared to do that, then you may as well fill out our form for the Ballymena League now.”
Although 2015 will ultimately decide Ballymoney's fate, they've two big games left to play in 2014. On Saturday, they face league leaders Lurgan Celtic, while they face Glebe Rangers in the Ballymoney derby two days after Christmas.
“I will be bringing in some new blood in January but I actually don't think the squad needs a total overhaul, just a wee bit of experience. In Shane Jennings,we have a striker capable of scoring us the goals we need to stay up.
“Getting our first win is the big thing. We've got two big games before the window opens, though. Lurgan Celtic will be a very difficult game on Saturday, but we have Glebe Rangers on the 27th in our local derby and anything can happen in a derby game. That's a match everybody is looking forward to.”
Perhaps Ballymoney will have a lot more to look forward to in 2015.
Club : Ballymoney United
Division : NIFL Championship Two
Ground : Riada Stadium
Colours : Blue
Manager : Russell Stirling
Belfast Telegraph Digital