Hillsborough Boys look to return to former glory
What links Celtic manager Neil Lennon, former Northern Ireland stalwart Gerry Taggart, and Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell?
The answer lies nestled in a well-loved Co Down town, around 12 miles outside Belfast, and is the subject of a rejuvenation programme that could well see it among the leading lights of Mid Ulster football in years to come.
For now though, the Hillsborough Boys team that helped develop these renowned figures on their way to stardom in their own very individual rights are keeping their feet very much on the ground in the short term.
The man charged with leading this new era for the club is Micky McFarland - someone who knows the club and its rich tradition well, and who played in the 1977 Under-14s team which won all 33 games in the Dundonald Junior League to complete an unforgettable league and cup double.
He has had his fair share of managerial experience too, including looking after the club’s junior teams at various age groups, but this latest project is likely to be a different venture altogether.
McFarland stressed: “This thing is in its infancy. We have built it up from having no players to 14 or 15 over a short period. It’s going to take time.
“We haven’t set any specific targets at this stage, though we should be looking to at least get into the top half in our first season. I think we will get better as we strengthen the squad and move up the table when everything settles.”
Hillsborough Boys have been in existence since 1967, building a reputation as a top junior set-up, which currently has seven teams in the Lisburn League, one in the Mid Ulster Juvenile League, another in the South Belfast League, and four IFA Grassroot Development teams.
This, however, is the first season that the Boys have become men, or more specifically, have had their own senior team.
McFarland continued: “In all the years that I was managing junior teams, it was always something that was always being talked about – a kind of ‘will we, won’t we’ situation – so it’s good that the club have finally taken that leap of faith.
“As soon as I heard it was happening, I threw my hat in the ring to be the manager. This club has given me so much, and it is nice to be able to put something back in. The club has a few plans for the future, and I want to be a part of it all.”
There is little question that the development of Hillsborough Boys as a senior force will be a long term project, but if the work they have put in at junior level is anything to go by, they are sure to make a success of it eventually.
Lennon, Taggart, Campbell and former Linfield great Noel Bailie to name but a few, all enjoyed the fruits of the hard labour of those behind Hillsborough Boys, including getting to compete in pre-season tournaments in Norway and Sweden.
The current committee will take a patient approach, just as they have done up to this point. They implemented a five-year plan to get this far, bringing the team through Under-16 right up to Under-19 level, and it will now be another five years before they fully assess the performance of this new senior team.
By then, the young spine of this team including the likes of Neil Archer, Taylor Scott and Ashley Shaw will hope to have played an integral part in getting the senior side off the ground.
There may also be a few familiar faces on their way back to Hillsborough, if the club’s secretary Paul Alexander’s assertion is correct.
Alexander told The Park: “We have had a great response after putting about it on Facebook. A few of the old players have come back to play with the seniors, and I’m sure we will attract a few more.
“I think people realise they were well looked after at Hillsborough Boys, and while a lot of the lads go onto other senior teams, it doesn’t always work out, especially with the lack of money there is around these days.”
Most importantly, McFarland knows he’ll have the full support of everyone who has made this club such a success up to now.
It’s been a long wait, and one extended by the fact that they are the last team in the entire Mid Ulster League to kick off their league campaign.
But when they eventually do, this Saturday, welcoming fellow Division 4 newcomers Newmills to Fullerton Park in Dunmurry, they are sure to reflect – win lose or draw – that the best things come to those who wait.