McCartney sets bar high for upwardly-mobile Nortel
When Nortel manager Lee McCartney took charge of the club back several months ago, they were fighting a relegation battle. In truth, it is a battle they have not yet won… but McCartney has his sights set higher than mere survival.
A return of six points from their back-to-back derby games with Islandmagee has come at just the right time for the Monkstown Avenue side, providing them with a boost as they seek to move away from any threat of the drop this season.
Now the ambitious young gaffer is backing his players to enjoy a finish to the season beyond any expectations anyone at the club could have had before Christmas.
“The derby double-header was important for us,” McCartney admitted. “The three points in last weekend’s first game against Islandmagee felt like 10… it was a massive swing for us at the bottom. It has been massive for our confidence.
“I think it helped that the two games came when they did. It made it easy for me, because the players didn’t need any more motivation - they were all up for this game, and personal pride, as well as the points, has been at stake.”
With things looking up, having opened a nine-point gap from the bottom two places, you would imagine thoughts would be turning towards what Nortel have to do to finish the job, in terms of staying up. But that isn’t McCartney’s outlook at all.
Traditionally, a tally of 26 points has been sufficient for most clubs to survive the dreaded drop, but with current bottom club Shankill United on 13 points with nine games still left to play, McCartney feels that mark may not be setting the bar high enough this year.
He continued: “I think 26 points would be a low number to stay up with this year. But ideally, we should be aiming for top 10 this year - we are definitely capable.
“When we came in, the confidence and the morale was low. A lot of the players had left the club, and to be honest, the ones that stayed were losing games before they even went out on the pitch.
“But the tide has turned now. Some of those players have come back, and we are playing with a bit more steel now. I haven’t made anyone a better player or anything like that - if we stay up this season, it won’t be because of me, it will be because everyone has done their bit.”
So what has been the secret behind this turnaround?
“There hasn’t been one thing,” continued the Nortel boss. “Ricky (Beggs, the club’s former manager) stepping aside and having belief in me meant a lot. It was him that put the wheels in motion for me to come in.
“Ricky is a legend at Nortel, he has been a part of this club for so long. I grew up seeing him manage my brother Glen, and he will be an essential part of where the club goes from here in his role on the committee.
“John McConnell staying on as the assistant has been a massive boost too, along with my assistant from the second team, Alan Brown. They both have a wealth of experience behind them, especially in defence, which as you can see, has been a bit of a weakness for us this season.
“As I say, everyone is chipping in, and there is a real team feel about the place.”
And, although he may play down his own part in the Nortel’s renaissance, McCartney himself is undoubtedly a key factor in the club’s positive results.
If he manages to keep Nortel in the top flight - and better yet, achieves his top 10 target - the club will surely have a platform on which to build future success.
Belfast Telegraph Digital