Belfast Telegraph

CTA Athletic's Ali hoping to to be punching above their weight

By Martin Mawhinney

Mid Ulster League new boys CTA Athletic may not be in optimum shape at this early stage of the campaign, but their assistant manager Aiman Ali firmly believes they will be fighting fit in the months ahead.

Ali, who is also the current club captain, is one of the remaining core that have remained at the club from their previous incarnation of Maxx FC, the team formed from the Armagh-based snooker club, which closed its doors earlier this year.

The decision to transform the club in every way including its name was not a difficult one for Ali, manager Anthony McElmeel, and those who followed them through the process; the transition itself, however, was not without its problems.

Ali explained: “The snooker club had closed, and a friend of mine opened it up again as a gym, Certified Training Athletic. The owner agreed to sponsor the team in return for us calling ourselves Certified FC, but the League wouldn’t let us be called that, so we settled on CTA Athletic.

“The old team, Maxx, really had died after a run of bad results, and it made sense to change things. We finished third from bottom last season, and with so many other teams in the area, we weren’t an attractive option for potential players.

“It was a shame as we were top of the league up to Christmas in our first season (the previous campaign) and all was looking well, before we went on a run of bad results then, too.”

However, this is very much a new-look squad, with eight summer arrivals already in place, and more will surely follow. So what will make players who had turned down a place at the Maxx club now want to sign up with CTA?

“That’s easy,” smiled Ali. “We pride ourselves on fitness, and any players who join us will be given their own personalised fitness plan and reduced rate membership in the gym.”

So the signs already are that this could eventually shape up to be one of the fittest, leanest and strongest teams in Mid Ulster football and beyond. Yet anyone looking for instant success may be disappointed… this, just like any fitness regime worth its salt, is a long-term project that will require total dedication and patience for results.

At present, the potential is all with their young squad, with Ali the oldest player pulling on the CTA shirt at just 25. The rest are anywhere between 18 and 23.

To those who view their glass half-empty, that could be misconstrued as a disadvantage, especially for inexperienced players who had to shoulder the impact of a comprehensive 9-2 thumping by Cookstown Celtic in their first ever match.

But the positive-thinking Ali can see a bright future for this athletic bunch of players.

He told The Park: “That was in the Marshall Cup against a team in the league above us – and they will walk Division 3 this year, and do the same in Division 2 next year.

“I didn’t have to pick the boys up after that game – if you look at our results, we haven’t been losing our games by three or four goals. They have been close matches, and that is the same with all the games in the league. It’s all quite tight, and that’s what gives us a chance.

“The fact that the boys are so young works in our favour, because they will all hopefully stick together. Now all they have to do is learn how to grind out wins, consistently, and we will be well on our way.”

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