High-flying Annagh are no surprise package, says manager Smith
Dean Smith says he hasn’t been surprised by the positive start his Annagh United have made to the NIFL Championship One campaign, which has found them in the top three by the middle of October. However, if they manage to keep their league status beyond this season, he readily accepts it will be the greatest achievement in his medal-strewn career.
It’s worth noting that the former Irish League player has plenty to compare such feats to, having featured in Loughgall’s famous clean-sweep winning side which also earned promotion to the Premiership, not to mention Premiership promotion with Dungannon Swifts, along with a Premiership runners-up medal and European football with Glenavon.
Each of those feats was achieved at clubs where the team spirit and ethos was at the forefront of everything that was done… and it is very much the same idea at Tandragee Road, claims Smith.
“There are no big egos, no big stars,” he stated. “We just work hard for each other. It would be massive if we could stay up.
“On a personal level, it would be my biggest achievement in football.”
So many managers set their aims on league survival at the start of the season, but this time around, it is even more of an issue for arguably more clubs, with a handful falling through the trapdoor at the end of this campaign to allow for a reshuffle in the two tiers of the Championship.
But that isn’t a concern to Smith, who guided Annagh up last season behind Championship Two champions Lurgan Celtic. He prefers to look on the bright side - even if the worst was to come to the worst - rather than worrying himself about such matters.
He said: “By getting up to Championship One this season, we already know that, no matter what happens, we will still be a Championship club next year. Unfortunately there are a few clubs who’ll be at the bottom end of Championship Two and they will lose that status altogether, because of the reshaping of the league.
“For us, though, it’s all about staying up, and I do feel feel we are well enough equipped to do that this year.
“We started well, but maybe the last couple of defeats have been a reality check. The start we got off to didn’t surprise me or any of my coaches, because we knew how good we were, but perhaps a few people outside of the club were a bit taken aback.
“Like I say though, we have had a reality check against some top teams recently, and you have to remember that we are only a small club. I’m not expecting us to be up there challenging at the end of the season.”
All the same, they have plenty of reason to dream. A penalty shootout win in the League Cup over Smith’s former side Glenavon provided plenty of buzz among the Annagh players and their manager.
Yet a 2-0 defeat against Ards in the same competition on Wednesday night was the type of ‘reality check’ to which Smith keeps referring.
“It was probably our worst performance of the season - that was what was most disappointing about it,” grimaced the Annagh boss. “Don’t get me wrong, though, Ards fully deserved the win.
“We are coming up against some quality teams, and it is good experience for us. It has been great to have a bit of a cup run - it has given us a massive self-belief - but the main thing is always going to be the league. That is our bread and butter.”
And with plenty of Premiership experience to call upon in the likes of Ricky Allen, Stuart Muldrew, Philip Craig, Scott McCordick and Matty Brown, it would be foolish for anyone to write off Annagh’s chances of achieving their survival dream.