Front-running Hughes happy to admit title is Ballynahinch Olympic's to lose
Usually, this is the stage of the season where you can find front-running managers nervously talking down their title chances, but Ballynahinch Olympic gaffer Marty Hughes takes a fresh approach.
The man nicknamed “Muncher” happily admits that in only their second season in Division 1B, promotion was an aim they were confident of fulfilling - and now he is comfortable enough to accept that his side are the undeniable title favourites.
“And why shouldn’t he be,” you might ask. The current league leaders enjoy a healthy 16-point advantage over Newcastle (albeit with two games extra played). They look to have one hand already on the league trophy, but two wins from their final five games should seal the deal.
Yet the trend in title races is for managers to remain coy about their chances - but in the face of glaringly positive statistics it would look insincere than to say Olympic’s sights are anywhere other than fixed firmly on the title.
Hughes - who along with Barry Reid, were promoted from being Niall Murray’s assistants to joint managers at the beginning of the season when Murray stepped down from the role - admitted: “Our target at the start of the year was promotion, but after Christmas, we had to re-evaluate. By that stage, we had only lost one game, and we had seen what all the other teams were about.
“We came to the conclusion that the only ones who can do us out of the title is ourselves. You have to approach these things with confidence… there is no point in going into games thinking that second place will do.”
Hughes says that as far as management goes, he “sort of fell into it by accident,” and that it was a route he always felt he would take “further down the line,” having only recently finished his playing career. However, it’s a decision he’s glad he has taken.
“It has been brilliant,” he said. “Bringing Stevie Ward and Charlie Sloan on board has been a big help. Winning definitely helps, too!
“Olympic is such a family club, and all of the guys we are coaching each week are friends. That can make it tougher as well, when you have to tell some of them they aren’t playing, but fortunately, they take the rough with the smooth.”
Hughes admits he’d be lying he said he hadn’t already made his calculations about what lies ahead, and what would be needed to land the club’s first ever 1B title to book their first ever place in the Amateur League’s second tier.
He said: “If we could get two wins, that could probably do the job, but I’d say it’s seven points to make sure. One of the things we have in our favour is that all the other teams have to play each other, so are likely to drop points; another is that most of them will be playing Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday for each of the last few weeks - we only play one Tuesday, and the rest are Saturdays. It plays into our hands.
“We have five games left - Portaferry, UUJ, Sirocco Works, Colin Valley, and Wellington Rec - and the Colin Valley game is the only one at home.
“But if we could win it, it would be the biggest trophy this club has ever won… it would be something really special.”
And for a club who have only been in Intermediate level football for three years, with a management team stepping out in their debut campaign - it would be an achievement to savour for many years to come.