Dromara boss McMahon asks young players to show their Steel
Dromara Village manager Gerard McMahon knows he is asking a lot of his young side to overturn the odds against Queen’s University in the opening round of the Steel & Sons Cup this weekend, but he is still asking it nonetheless.
After all, he only has to look as far as his forthcoming opponents for inspiration of giant-killing escapades. The NIFL Championship Two students managed to chart a path all the way to the semi-finals of the Irish Cup two years ago, so they know better than most to expect the unexpected in the cup competitions.
“I suppose we are going to have to do something similar to what they did,” says the former Northern Ireland international of the encounter.
“We are going in as big underdogs, and it’s not as if I am aiming to win the Steel & Son’s Cup this year. But if we can keep it tight in the first half, then we will give ourselves a chance in this game.”
The best word to describe McMahon’s expectations of the season ahead would probably be “realistic.” Having seen his embryonic outfit escape relegation by a mere three points, he isn’t telling anyone to run out and back his team for the Amateur League 1A title.
Yet, with the addition of ex-Lurgan Celtic duo Johnny McCarron and Daniel Ryan, John McLaughlin from Celtic Club (Lurgan No 1) and Jamie Collins from AFC Craigavon, there is a sense of greater experience in the first team that can push the club on as a whole.
McMahon stated: “We are steadily building. Last season, a good few of our players came up from the Under-17s, and in a lot of the time, they were getting bullied out of it. Now I’m not gullible enough to think that won’t happen again this season, but the main thing is that those players have learnt from the experience, and that the new players that have come in add further depth to the squad.
“It was a tight 1A last year, and there was a point with only a month or so left when we were as close to the top part of the league as we were to the bottom, so I do believe that the boys deserved to keep their place in it.
“But I also expect that it will be tougher this year, and we couldn’t have asked for a much bigger test than coming up against Comber on the first weekend of the league campaign.”
Coincidentally, Comber’s manager Philip McDonagh was the last Dromara boss to lead the club to silverware, landing the Border Cup in 2010, and while fortunes latterly took a dramatic tumble with the Villagers’ relegation from the top flight two seasons ago, the current manager believes they must target another trophy to kickstart a return to the top division.
He added: “A lot of the people here still talk about that Border Cup win, and it’s clear what that can do for belief and confidence going forward. It will be difficult, but a club with a set-up like ours deserves to be amongst the ‘big boys.’
“I will have been here two years in February, and in that space of time, there have been a lot of positive changes. Some have been big, like the academy they have introduced with over 200 kids from the local area, from Under-7s level right up, all now part of the club. Some have been smaller, like getting training gear and food for after the game, making sure the boys are hydrated.
“All of this is important in helping attract players to the club, and making those that are here to feel that things are being done professionally.”
McMahon admits the committee have been first rate in delivering everything he has asked for to date - now the challenge for the team and him is to return the favour.