Belfast Telegraph

Shamrock set sights on steady progress in the Amateur League

By Martin Mawhinney

No matter how things pan out for new Northern Amateur Football League club Shamrock this season, they can rest assured that things are going very much according to plan.

The Division 2C new boys have made an encouraging start to life in the NAFL, with four wins from their first five league matches, but manager Conor Stiobhard is keen to ensure his players keep everything in perspective as they target steady progress in the medium to long term future.

He told the Park: “We are in the second year of a five-year development plan… and part of that plan was to be competitive in the Amateur League. To be able to say that we are at this level of football already is an achievement in itself.

“We want to do as well as we can. We are the third Ardoyne club in the Amateur League, and we see other the other two (Crumlin Star and Ardoyne Working Men’s Club) as a benchmark for what can be achieved.

“At this stage, it is a bit of a pipe dream to talk about getting up to where Crumlin Star are now, but with the support structure, the commitment of our committee and players and the coaching badges we have in place, it has to be the aim to get there one day.”

For now, the focus is on laying the all-important foundations for success at Marrowbone Park. And although they are currently second in 2C, Stiobhard will not pressurise his players with the target of promotion in their first Amateur League campaign.

He said: “This season is all about consolidating our place. We know there are established clubs who strengthened in the summer, so it is important that we take things one game at a time in this league.

“Of course we want to finish as high up as we can, and if you offered us promotion now, we’d take it. But the main thing is that we put the structures in place from the start.”

A big part of that has been ensuring the former Belfast & District club’s coaching staff, including assistant Thomas McLarnon and coaches Paul Mooney and Stephen Murphy have all been qualified up to IFA Level 1. Indeed, Stiobhard himself is currently working towards the UEFA B coaching licence.

Another essential component is the recruitment of quality players; something the Shamrock boss believes has become less challenging with their promotion into the Amateur League. That viewpoint is supported by the fact that their squad now includes former Donegal Celtic, Tobermore United and Wellington Rec players.

Potentially, a major landmark in this debut season would be a run in one of the cup competitions.

With 2012 and 2013 Junior Cup winners Strathroy Harps knocking Shamrock out of this year’s third round, they will be even more determined to make strides in the Junior Cup instead, with a third round tie against Orangefield OB II ahead of them this Saturday.

Ahead of that, just two weeks later, comes Shamrock’s first venture into the Clarence Cup… and what better way to begin than with a local derby?

The opening round tie with Division 2B table-toppers Ardoyne WMC is sure to attract plenty of interest in the area, and Stiobhard is anticipating a memorable afternoon.

He added: “We are all looking forward to the fixture, and are hoping the community will get behind it. We are excited to be playing a cup game at this level... it will be a great occasion.”

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