Belfast Telegraph

Comber in battle for Premier Division survival

By Martin Mawhinney

They say that the league table doesn’t lie, but if Comber Rec are relegated at the end of the season, they may consider themselves the victims of misfortune to a certain extent.

The Park Way side appeared to be in a position of relative comfort and safety in the mid-table, but a woeful run of TEN league games without a win has left them scrambling for Premier Division survival with just two games to play.

A quick look around the bottom of the table would suggest Comber may require at least four points from the meetings with Derriaghy CC and Ards Rangers, if not a maximum return.

It’s a task McDonagh feels his players are up to, and not without reason. A more encouraging recent stat shows Comber have only lost one of their last three games, and the two draws prior to that 3-2 loss against Albert Foundry at the weekend came against the defending league champions, Drumaness Mills, and one of this season’s last remaining title contenders, Immaculata.

“We were actually annoyed with ourselves with both those draws, because we had a few chances to win the Drumaness game, and we conceded a soft goal against Immaculata at 1-0 up,” admitted McDonagh. “We should have been three or four-up against Kilmore, then they went on and beat us 3-1. Malachians beat us 1-0, even though we had about 80% of the possession.

“We only have ourselves to blame, really. We have been dominating possession, but getting hit on the counter-attack, and giving away too many poor goals. I have been saying it for weeks now.”

McDonagh, his backroom staff and committee began the season with high hopes. This was a completely new-look squad with around 16 new hand-picked players drafted in, with only two of last season’s crop remaining. It was a side brimming with talent, and one that McDonagh could call his own.

Yet, to his dismay, and through circumstances outside of his control, the manager watched his dream line-up fall apart, piece by piece.

The centre-back pairing which was supposed to provide the foundation for what was ahead of it was taken apart, with the experienced Paul Harbinson taking up an offer to become Ballymena United Reserves manager early in the campaign.

Meanwhile, Harbinson’s defensive partner Darren McNamee was shifted into a more attacking role, after the tantalising front-line of Declan O’Connor and Darren Smith was broken up in the January transfer window, with the long-term suspended O’Connor choosing the closer-to-home surroundings of Crewe United instead, while Darren Smith was unable to turn down the advances of Lisburn Distillery.

Elsewhere in the side, influential pair Mark Whitford (who took up an unmissable opportunity in New Zealand) and Liam Judge (who has missed a large chunk of the season due to work and family commitments) have been sorely missed.

McDonagh lamented: “We built a strong squad and have been playing some good football. There’s no getting away from the fact that we have been very unfortunate… we have lost a lot of important players.

“I would hope that the players who are at the club at the minute would be able to accept some responsibility, and if we did get relegated, they would stay on and fight for the club in Division 1A.

“But there is no point in thinking about that sort of thing, because we have two very big games coming up, and I think we can get what we need from them to stay up. The clubs around us have difficult games they need to win too, but the main thing is that we have picked ourselves up and showed great spirit in the past few games, and we can do it again.”     

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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