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High-flying Dollybirds are aiming to surprise Swifts

By Keith Bailie

Little Dollingstown are a team on the up and Dungannon Swifts have been warned. At the end of last season, Dollingstown, Glebe Rangers, Coagh United, Portstewart and Wakehurst were all relegated, as the Northern Ireland Football League trimmed back the size of their third division.

But Dollingstown have adjusted well to life outside the NIFL.

While some of their counterparts have struggled to adjust to life in regional football, Dollingstown have reached the last 16 of the Irish Cup, won the Bob Radcliffe Cup and they still have a chance of lifting the Mid-Ulster Football League.

Today the Dollybirds will travel to Stangmore Park to face Premiership club the Swifts in the sixth round of the Tennant's Irish Cup.

Reflecting on the renaissance, manager Stephen Uprichard said: "I only joined the club a few months ago, but I've known the people here for a long time.

"It's a club with the ambition to play at a higher level and a club who want to play in big games like cup finals or Irish Cup ties. The people who run the club deserve big occasions.

"The relegation was tough for the club, but we have done well this year in both the league and the cups.

"We are determined to give a good account of ourselves."

The former Armagh City and Coagh United manager is no stranger to causing shocks in the Irish Cup, but he confessed that today's game against Dungannon Swifts is likely to be incredibly difficult.

"Dungannon are a club that deserves a lot of credit," he said.

"If you look at the league table they are above big clubs like Glentoran and that's not a fluke. They've some great young players and they've proved that they can beat anybody on their day. It will be very difficult for us."

The Planters' Park club have never lacked ambition. They were initially denied promotion to league football in 2011, when it was discovered they had fielded an ineligible player in the Mid-Ulster League.

In 2013, they came within a whisker of claiming their place in the league, only to lose a promotion play-off to Amateur League champions Newington.

They finally claimed their spot in NIFL in 2014 by defeating Ballymena & Provincial League champions Brantwood in the promotion play-off.

The club had hoped to cement their position at national level, only to be relegated from Championship Two on the final day of last season.

Manager Uprichard warned that returning to the league will be a difficult task. "A few years ago you just needed to have the facilities, but now you need the facilities and to win your regional league. Even then, you will probably need to win a play-off. We're in the Mid-Ulster League, which is a very good standard nowadays with ambitious club likes Tandragee Rovers and Banbridge Rangers.

"I think nine teams can still win the league this year, which tells you something.

"In my opinion, there is a lot of quality outside the Irish League these days when you look at clubs like Ards Rangers, Crumlin Star, Newbuildings and even Junior side Harryville Homers. There is some fantastic football played all over the country, in many different leagues. But the Premiership is still a cut above and Dungannon Swifts will be big favourites.

"We will go there and give it everything we have. It will be a great occasion for everyone at the club."

Belfast Telegraph


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