Crumlin Star’s Amateur League Premier Division title aspirations may have been dealt a huge blow with their second defeat against league leaders Ards Rangers in a week… but defeated manager Sean Brown is still in top form ahead of his side’s remaining seven games.
He knows that a winning run from now to the end of the season will almost certainly ensure the title goes to Ardoyne to make it an unforgettable year for Crumlin in their first ever Premier Division campaign.
Goals from Ciaran Murphy (25th minute) and Paul Berne (55th minute) were not enough for the Division 1A champions, as Rangers responded within five minutes of both, then rounded off their crucial six-point haul with a winner in the final five minutes.
Just how much this will effect Crumlin in their quest for top flight title glory will become clear over these closing few days and weeks of the season, but if Brown is concerned, he certainly isn’t letting it show.
"There are still four teams in it, and with the other two – Nortel and Drumaness – still to play each other twice, it is still up for grabs. Ards Rangers only have two games left, and it might be difficult for them to stay ahead of the others… we can still afford to lose games and overtake them… but of course, you have to win them.
"I have read all the other managers’ comments, saying that we are the favourites and that it is ours to lose, but do they really believe that, or are they just clutching at straws?
"The main thing I have been pumping into my players is that they still have it all in their own hands. While that is the case, you aren’t relying on anyone else… you know you just have to go and win it yourself."
The Crumlin boss feels a cursory glance around the dressing room is all he needs to convince him that the Premier Division newcomers are capable of topping the final table at the first time of asking.
He added: "I know I have a lot of winners in there. You don’t lift a treble in the previous without knowing what it takes to be the best. It is still there… it is still alive.
"On Saturday night, I was getting all these texts from them saying ‘Come on lads – let’s go and win this.’ That is exactly what you want.
"But I have to say, if someone had come up to me at the start of the season and offered me Crumlin Star still fighting for the title with seven games to go, I’d have bitten their arm off for it.
"The fact that some people were tipping us as favourites at the start of this season is incredible. It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was playing with this team down in Division 2B and 2C.
"It is unbelievable how far this club has come in the last ten years, and that is a credit to everyone who has worked so hard in that time."
Brown is correct in some regards to his assessment of the title race – second-placed Drumaness and third-placed Nortel do have a big opportunity in the title race, and neither did their respective pushes any harm with 4-0 and 4-3 wins over Comber Rec and Islandmagee at the weekend.
However, the Crumlin boss seems to have overlooked the challenge of Kilmore Rec, who continued their steady ascent up the Premier Division table with a 3-0 away win over Malachians. Victories in their two games in hand would draw them level, on points and in games played, with Nortel, although they do face a tricky test against Ards Rangers at Robert Adams Park on Tuesday.
In Saturday’s remaining Premier Division fixture, Ardglass opened up a three-point gap from second-bottom Dunmurry Rec, with a 5-1 home victory over relegated Dromara Village.