Belfast Telegraph

Donnelly seeing the bright side at Oxford

By Martin Mawhinney

After a year on the sidelines, Oxford Sunnyside midfielder James Donnelly has fittingly learnt to look on the bright side, but he believes even the most pessimistic player would have difficulty in having anything other than a positive outlook towards the Mid Ulster club.

The 25-year-old was forced out of action in pre-season with current Intermediate A leaders Tandragee Rovers around 18 months ago. At that point, he hadn’t managed to break through to the first team, and was unsure of where his footballing future lay, with travel an issue.

However, when the unforeseen knee injury struck, little was Donnelly to know that it would end up helping to make up his mind on where he would play in future, while also drawing a line under his time at Madden Road.   

Donnelly recalled: “It was just one of those things – my knee just swelled up a bit in training… I didn’t think it would be that serious. But every time I went to run on it, it seemed to get worse.

“I ended up seeing a physio, who gave me these separate stretches and exercises, and I wasn’t able to take part in full training any more.

“It was a tough not being involved, but when I was on the way back to playing again, I knew I wanted to play for a local team, and Oxford are just down the road from me. My cousin, who had been at Tandragee with me, had given my number to Richy, the manager, and then I went down to their training when I was able to.”

Oxford still have over a third of their Intermediate B games left to play, but Donnelly feels they are already in a position to assess their campaign, with a typical  end-of-season mid-table berth growing more inevitable by the week.

There is still the possibility of intermediate football in Mid Ulster being transformed from two divisions to three next season, and this will be a matter of discussion among current member clubs of Intermediate A and B at a meeting on Monday evening (February 10).

However, while the future is unclear, the club’s sense of purpose for the season is not as strong as it might otherwise be, and Donnelly believes this may have had a contributing factor towards their current 9th position in the table.  

He admitted: “It has been up and down a bit. We went on a good run before Christmas, but since then, we have been conceding a lot of silly goals.

“Some of the players haven’t been showing at training twice a week from the turn of the year. It’s not great when there are only six or seven there on a Tuesday night, when we do our fitness and strength work, but at the same time, you realise that people have their work and family commitments too. Some guys are able to do their own working out away from training, too.

“You could say there is a lack of motivation when you are in the mid-table. Of course you always turn up to win, but when you aren’t battling relegation or challenging for the title, it’s not life or death.

“Before I joined the club, I always knew they were a team who finish around the mid-table, and I had a fair idea that it would be likes of Newry and St Mary’s who would be up there pushing for promotion.

“Even if the results haven’t always been the best, I have really enjoyed my time here so far, both in getting to know the other players and the great team spirit here.

And while there is a level of uncertainty at the moment about what league Oxford and several of their rivals will be playing in next season, there is a little more clarity about the ground where they will be playing.

Brothers Richard (manager) and Brian Magee (assistant manager / secretary) have indicated that Oxford’s Knockrammer Park home in Lurgan – where Lurgan Celtic are their tenants – will be refurbished into a 3G surface and ready to go for the start of next season.

 If that can be completed on time, then there can be no question that Oxford Sunnyside will have a bright future.

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