Kirk confident of third successive Rosebowl triumph
Everything on paper should say that the Northern Amateur Football League are huge outsiders to win the annual Britton Rosebowl match (today, Old Coach Road, Hillsborough, 2.30pm) - yet manager Paul Kirk has every reason to believe they can defy the odds yet again.
Put simply, their opponents, the Scottish Amateur FA, have far more players to choose from and far more time to prepare with the players selected. And yet, here we are with Kirk bidding to repeat the three-in-a-row success of the NAFL class of 2006-08.
It’s a very different line-up from the side that defeated the Scots 2-1 on their own turf at Glasgow’s Lesser Hampden last May, with nine changes, in some cases enforced by a domestic fixture schedule still playing catch-up with itself, due to postponements over the course of a rain-drenched season.
For that reason, this is undoubtedly going to be the NAFL representatives’ toughest assignment yet under Kirk in the cross-channel clash.
The current Lisburn Rangers boss admitted: “The preparations haven’t been as good as usual this year… it’s all been down to the inclement weather. Usually I’d have two games for them, and training sessions every Sunday for the four weeks coming up to the game, but that hasn’t been possible this year.
“It would have been ludicrous of me to have tried to get boys together when a lot of them have been playing Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday . Some managers have asked me not to pick their players because they are still involved in important matches, and I have had to respect that, too.
“It’s different for the Scottish team - they go down South to play a few games, then they play us before going out to Lithuania to play in a tournament. It is very much an international set-up for them, but I like to approach this game with a club mentality where it is more frantic, and we give them less time on the ball than they might be used to.”
Followers of the Amateur League will appreciate the quality of the side Kirk has still been able to assemble under challenging circumstances, and also realise - as the manager himself points out - that despite only having selected two strikers, there are a wealth of options when it comes to the attacking third.
Without giving much away, Kirk said: “I have an idea of what way I would like to play, and it could be different to the way we have in the past few years.
“It is a versatile squad and the players have been picked for that reason - a few of them can play in different positions - and they have a good spirit. The one thing I can guarantee is that everybody will get an opportunity to play… it is a privilege to play in this game, and I want the players to experience it and enjoy it.”
Of course, the experience will be a much more enjoyable one for the local lads if they can secure victory - and Kirk is extremely confident they will get the job done for a third successive year.
He added: “When destiny and opportunity arrive at the same time, you have got to take them. There is an opportunity for us to win three in a row, and this squad have the spirit and desire to do it.”
Northern Amateur Football League:
Goalkeepers: Jon Munn (Abbey Villa), Shane Harrison (Rathfriland Rangers)
Defenders: Jonny Roy (Ards Rangers), Willy McBurney (Ards Rangers), Jamie Patterson (Ards Rangers), Daryl Evans (Lisburn Rangers), Ryan Davidson (East Belfast), Elliott McKimm (Nortel)
Midfielders: Peter McCann (Lisburn Rangers), David Graham (Lisburn Rangers), Niall McAllister (Larne Tech), Aaron Harris (Albert Foundry), Timothy Clarke (Nortel), Thomas Lockhart (Rathfriland Rangers)
Forwards: James Costello (Rathfriland Rangers), Curtis Black (Shankill United)