Castlewellan enjoying first Amateur League campaign so far
For a club that has covered more league miles than most in their first ever Northern Amateur Football League, Castlewellan Town are enjoying the journey so far.
It has been something of an adventure for the Bann Road side, who average a 70-mile round-trip on their away visits every other weekend, and one that has shown more signs than not of heading in the right direction.
More importantly, it is proving to be the right move for a club who, in some quarters at least, needed a little persuading that it was. After all, Castlewellan have enjoyed regular success in the Newcastle & District League, with 25 trophies amassed over glorious decades of football in their own surrounding area.
“The idea of going up to the Amateur League had been mooted for some time,” revealed the club’s chairman David Hutchman, “but not everyone was in favour of it.
“I think it was a case of fear of the unknown for some. But it came to a head at the end of last season, and we decided to put it to a democratic vote… in the end it went in favour of going to the Amateur League by about 75% to 25%.
“It’s been a good move, and I think the naysayers have been won over. Taking part in new competitions, meeting new people, establishing new friendships - it’s all been positive.
“The truth is we were getting tired of playing the same teams every week, and it was getting to the stage where winning wasn’t as big a deal as it once was, because we had won that much in the Newcastle League. It was the right time for us.”
Remarkably, the distance hasn’t been the most challenging aspect of the season. Indeed, as the chairman admits, regular runs in the Junior Shield and Junior Cup have meant that Castlewellan are no strangers to the road.
No, the biggest obstacle facing the club in their NAFL debut has been the split loyalties of their players. Castlewellan aren’t alone in their struggles to maintain a regular first team in light of them also featuring for their local Gaelic football team, but there is no question it gives their opponents an edge.
Hutchman said: “It can be a problem, but it doesn’t usually affect us as much as it did this season, of all seasons. The local Gaelic team got into the Down Senior Championship final in October, and a lot of them were with them three or four days a week.
“You are talking some of our top players here, and when the Gaelic team lost, some of them didn’t want to come back and take the places of the players who had got us to where we were. I understand that, but you’d have to say that with them, we would have been further up in the table.”
And ultimately, that means a title challenge. Currently sitting fifth in Division 2C, Castlewellan could string together a push for top two, but it looks more likely to be just beyond them at the first time of asking.
That will probably have to wait. But this is a club with their sights very much set on the long term future, and will doubtless advance in the years ahead.
Hutchman added: “We want to get to Intermediate football. We’ve spent £200k on our ground and there are plans in place for new changing facilities and club rooms.
“We beat Killyleagh 2-0 the other week, too, and it was well deserved. I knew we had it in us. Now we are looking forward to testing other teams above us.”
Success on the pitch and plenty of promise off it. Seems that Castlewellan are a team to watch for the future.