Newry City AFC have fulfilled the predictions of many by taking an early lead in the Mid Ulster Intermediate B title race – but rival manager Bill Richardson insists it will not be a cake walk for the reborn Showgrounds side.
The man in charge of Newry’s title rivals Hanover says there are a handful of teams in the division who have more than a decent shout of topping the table come May.
What’s more, he sees no valid reason to omit his own club from that list.
He said: “Newry would be everyone’s favourites, but that’s probably as much down to their facilities as anything else. We beat them 1-0 in the Bob Radcliffe Cup, and it was a great experience.
“They have a great surface there – you don’t come across too many of them – and it was a tough game, but we showed what can be done. The only thing for us is that we’d probably rather have had the points against them in the league. We’ve still to play them in Intermediate B.
“It’s a strong division this year. You have a lot of teams who are definitely capable of beating each other – Moneyslane, St Mary’s, Valley Rangers and Dungannon Tigers.”
There is every reason to include Hanover in the list of title contenders, just as there has been in each season since their relegation in 2009. It is sometimes easy to forget that they were the Intermediate A league champions in 2006/07.
Since then, they have regularly occupied a position in the top six of the second tier, and hopes are high they can finally make a breakthrough this year.
“Certainly, we can,” stated Richardson. “We have to push for it. Whether or not we can get it depends entirely on us.
“I look around at the players I have and there are very few, if any, positions where I would be happy to replace mine with those from another club.”
One area in which the Hanover boss has been forced into making changes is in attack.
Stephen Hyndes’ decision to hang up the boots last season gave Richardson something of a dilemma approaching the current campaign.
The former Glenavon and Armagh City defender broke the conventional mould when it came to the latter years of his playing career, moving up-field to help the Hanover attack, and netting 56 goals in just under three seasons.
But Hanover have also gained from their loss, and are now employing Hyndes in a coaching role to join Richardson and assistant Dean Crowe on the sidelines.
And while his experience has enhanced the backroom staff, the team now have a youthful bunch of attacking prospects to choose from, with Michael Wilson, James Sargent, Richard Lappin and Wayne Harrison all stepping up to the plate in recent weeks.
With several of the longer established players having left, the aim now is to instill the same bond among this latest generation that made their predecessors such a force.
Richardson added: “Hanover have always been a real tight unit. When I played here, we played together and partied together. There was a real team spirit, and if we can recapture that again, we will do well out on the pitch.”