Can Castlewellan cup clash be first step on long road back for Killyleagh?
Killyleagh YC’s joint boss Dale Davidson reckons that keeping the club afloat in Division 1A along with managerial partner Mark ‘Chip’ Murray would rival anything they achieved in their long respective playing careers at the Showgrounds - and they have plenty to compare it to.
With a total of NINE Premier Division winners’ medals and two Border Cups with Killyleagh between them, not to mention the Steel & Sons Cup and Clarence Cup triumphs the latter enjoyed with the former amateur kingpins, there is no doubt this duo has enjoyed their fair share of junior football’s high-life.
Now, facing the toughest struggle of the club’s modern history, Davidson and Murray are doing everything in their power to arrest the current slump and begin to steer it back on an upward trajectory.
That, in itself, could prove to be a gradual process, and the club will move forward on a game-to-game basis. And that means that, even though this Saturday’s forthcoming game with Castlewellan Town may not take place in the ‘bread and butter’ of the league, it is the most important.
Davidson insisted: “We could really do with a good cup run - anything up to the quarter-final or beyond would be brilliant for us. We have 14 or 16 players - a good bunch of fellas who have been putting it in on the training ground - but they have been able to get much playing time because of the weather. Hopefully that work will pay off on Saturday.
“I’m sure Castlewellan will see this as a big game, too. It’s a big draw for them to get Killyleagh in the Clarence Cup, and I’m sure they will be up for it.”
That is, indeed, the case. As newcomers to the Amateur League from the Newcastle League this season, Castlewellan are only beginning the latest chapter in the story of their development.
And while life hasn’t always run smoothly so far in their first Division 2C campaign - a promotion bid looks unlikely at the first attempt, with 15 points from the first nine games - they have given a good account of themselves, despite the occasional challenge.
Castlewellan gaffer John Burns stated: “We haven’t been able to get a settled team out this year. We are affected by the Gaelic, and the weather hasn’t helped us at all.
“But it has been a learning experience. We have made the step up, and now it will take a year or two before we can look at pushing on again.
“The biggest thing we have learnt is that teams are more clinical. It isn’t necessarily that the defences are any tighter (than in the Newcastle League), but we are finding that we are getting punished more for our mistakes.
“It is a big occasion for us to be playing at Killyleagh. They have been up there in the game for so long, and while you could say it might be a good time to play them, I am sure it is just a blip for them. Maybe that is just the way things go, but I am sure they will be back up again.”
That is a sentiment Davidson and Murray are working at instilling into their players - but for the meantime, it is all about survival.
Davidson added: "It can be hard to attract players, and we will be working at bringing in players from outside the area - when we were winning titles, most of the players were from outside of Killyleagh.
"But it's hard to sign players if you are relegated two seasons in a row, and are playing your football in Division 1B. So I will be over the moon if we can stay up this year. In terms of our rebuilding process, it would be as big as anything me and Chip have done at the club."
Currently only three points above the relegation zone with 16 games left, no-one will take 1A survival for granted. But with hard work and the right attitude, Killyleagh can secure the outcome the joint managers demand.