Kirk eager to continue club mentality in renewed Representatives role
When Paul Kirk took over as Lisburn Rangers manager at the start of 2011, there was no shortage of people who questioned the move, and whether his ambitions could be satisfied at the grassroots level. Those questions have surely now subsided altogether.
For a man who, as a player had lifted Irish League titles with Glentoran, Linfield and Crusaders, and as a manager had led Lisburn Distillery into European competition, many saw his latest venture as a step down, and believed that he would share that outlook.
However, it would appear, nothing could be further from the truth. Two years into his time at Rangers, he had dragged them from the bottom of Division 1B into the promised land of 1A and all the opportunity it provides.
In that year, he also managed the Northern Amateur Representative side to Britton Rosebowl victory over the Scottish Amateur FA on home turf at his first attempt, following up with another victory in the following year’s fixture at Glasgow’s Little Hampden.
Those victories have recently been rewarded with the announcement that Kirk will take charge of the Representatives for the 2016 Rosebowl in Northern Ireland. The match itself may not be until May, but Kirk admits he has already been putting in plans for the game.
He admitted: “I always like to try and rotate my players, and I will reassess it as a I go along, but almost all of the players from last season’s squad is still playing in the Amateur League, and I see no reason why they couldn’t win it again.
“Some people might say that this or that player is better than those I have picked, but they don’t get it. It’s about a togetherness - and this group of lads have an unbelievable togetherness.
“It is a privilege to be asked by the Amateur League to do manage the Representative team again. I get to bring together a lot of players from different teams from all over the place and it is like having a club side.
“We have been on What’s App, and we have already agreed that we are going to have a Christmas do together. I’d say there will be a couple of games before that.”
Listening to Kirk, all the passion he had at the top level of the local game appears to be intact and as integral to his management in the Amateur League.
It’s there when he talks about the spirit within the squad he selected in the most recent final, and it’s there too as he lays out his own mission statement for the Rosebowl.
Only one manager has ever managed to win three successive fixtures in its 36-year history, but Kirk has his sights firmly set on equalling the record set by former NAFL Representative boss Ricky Beggs between 2006 and 2008.
He said: “I know it has been retained a few times before (it can be retained by the holders drawing), but actually winning three games in a row, that is the challenge for me. And I know the players we have in the Amateur League are good enough to do it.”
On the club side of things, Kirk’s Lisburn Rangers secured their first win of the Division 1A campaign against relegated Comber Rec at the weekend. Previously, Rangers had secured just one point from their first four league games, but the former Distillery boss is confident that things are now on an upward trajectory.
He added: “We are playing great football, it’s just that every time we make a mistake, we get punished.
“‘Will we survive?’ We are better than survival - we should be looking at promotion. If we were playing badly and not getting the results, I’d be worried, but that isn’t the case.”