Forsythe claims his Ards Rangers champions have hunger to retain title
It takes a good team to win the league, but a truly great one to retain it. As Ards Rangers manager Lee Forsythe considers the 2015/16 Amateur League Premier Division campaign that lies ahead of him and his reigning champions, this must surely be the thought occupying his mind most.
Sure, he enjoyed the celebrations and all the appreciation and plaudits that came from winning the top flight title for the second time in four years, and in turn completing an impressive Border Cup and league double. He has enjoyed some much-needed down-time with the family, too.
The pre-season signs have been largely positive, with a draw against Glenavon and a narrow 2-1 loss to Irish Premiership champions Crusaders, in particular, catching the eye.
However, you won’t catch Forsythe talking up his team’s title aspirations at the outset. Not only is it not his style, but he has also been here before. After lifting the Premier Division title in 2012, Rangers could only secure a fifth place finish in the following season, a full 21 points behind winners Newington YC.
It’s a situation the Drome Park gaffer is extremely keen to avoid second time around.
“When we won the league the last time, the next season, our first two games were at home, against Nortel and Kilmore,” he explained. “ We thought it was going to be a case of six points in the bag, but we lost 2-0 and 2-1.
“The players just weren’t hungry enough. But that won’t happen this time. There are players at the club who have two Premier Division medals now, and can also teach the other players about that experience from the last time.”
There is another reason Forsythe believes his side won’t suffer ‘second season syndrome’ - the fixture list. When it was first released, Ards Rangers supporters must have been slightly downhearted. Yet Forsythe has explained that a tough start on paper doesn’t have to be such a bad thing.
He said: “We won our first 12 matches last season, and I think they (the fixture organisers) are trying to do their best to make sure that doesn’t happen again! I think we might be the only team in the league that have their first two games away from home, and the fact that they are against Immaculata and Albert Foundry - well…
“It’s about as tough as it gets, but that could work in our favour. It means there is no danger of us getting caught cold this time.”
Gary Hamilton and Stephen Baxter, the two Premiership managers who met with Rangers in the summer, were left very impressed by what their pre-season opponents had to offer.
With Adam Whitehead (a former Comber Rec player returned from university in England) already forming a promising understanding with centre back partner Jamie Patterson, and other defence-minded arrivals Chris Watters, Jordan Kennedy and Kyle McQuillan all set to shore things up at the back, and Ryan Munn and Tony Tumelty the only two departures, Forsythe is justified in his belief that he has an even stronger squad than last year.
Yet he neither wants to read too much into pre-season, nor does he feel his side have been given due credit in all quarters.
He explained: “It’s hard to know how much Crusaders and Glenavon were putting into those games, even though they did both put out a strong line-up. It’s the same sort of thing as us, when we are against teams below us. It shouldn’t happen, but sometimes it can’t be helped, especially in pre-season.
“And yes, it does feel sometimes that we don’t get the recognition we deserve. Okay, people are coming round to giving us more respect because we have been up there consistently for a number of years now, but I still feel that people are tipping the likes of Immaculata, Albert Foundry, Crumlin Star, and Downpatrick, ahead of us.”
Sounds like Forsythe and Co may have a point to prove, all over again...