Intermediate Cup: Comber Rec boss Philip McDonagh is forward thinking
As Comber Rec’s Intermediate Cup third round clash with Ardstraw approaches, their manager Philip McDonagh admits his new club’s rivals Ards Rangers aren’t too far from his mind.
For not only did this Saturday’s opponents trounce the Drome Park men 4-1 in the opening round of the competition, but Ards Rangers famously reached the prestigious final last season, only to battle out a valiant 1-0 defeat against Institute on the day.
The Intermediate Cup is well-known in local football as a difficult competition to win, not least as to reach the final, Rangers had to negotiate their way through seven previous rounds.
To see an Amateur League team manage such an impressive journey, only to end up with runners-up medals to show for their efforts might leave any manager with silent thoughts of fielding a less than full-strength side.
McDonagh insists he wouldn’t make such a move, even if he had the opportunity. However, in any case, the simple fact is he doesn’t have that luxury.
The former Dromara Village boss stated: “I’m going to have to play a few second team players, and they’ll get a good opportunity to show me what they can do in the firsts, but that’s not because I’m treating this competition any more lightly than any others. It’s because some of my players were signed after the August 31 deadline, and so wouldn’t be eligible to play.
“I realise it’s a difficult competition - I took Dromara to the quarter-finals last season. In fact, it was Ards Rangers who put us out.
“I have to admit, I didn’t think they would get any further, but they took me and most others by surprise, and gave a really good account of themselves. It was great to see, because they showed a lot of people the quality there is in the Amateur League.”
McDonagh will be hoping to do just that with Comber Rec, but isn’t entirely convinced it will be in the Intermediate Cup this season.
In some ways, he is right up against it, as he has had little opportunity so far to add to the team he inherited around ten weeks ago, and most of those who he has recruited have yet to have a run in the team, due to circumstances beyond the manager’s control.
Former Dromara duo Paul and Kevin Johnston have missed out due to work commitments, as has PSNI signing Connor Miller, while the Johnston brothers’ old Bellsbridge team-mate Brendan McNamee is currently out with a back injury.
Out of McDonagh’s six signings, that leaves only brother Graeme and ex-Queen's player Brendan Agnew with a regular place in the first team line-up.
Nevertheless, the manager is happy with the progress already made over this short spell.
He said: “The club lost five out of the six games before I arrived, and then won four and drew one of the first six after I took over. There has been a major improvement.
“One concern was fitness – but there has been progress on that front. We good organisation in the team, and they have all been working hard.
“The priority is to remain in the league, so in a way, it doesn’t matter whether we finish tenth or fourth this season… but beyond that, the aim is to start winning trophies. This club is a big club in the Amateur League, well-supported, and a sleeping giant. I aim to help bring it success.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital