Kirk reveals his Rosebowl team selection concerns
Paul Kirk has his sights on leading the Northern Amateur Football League to their third successive Britton Rosebowl crown… and readily admits this could well be the toughest of the lot.
The former long-serving Lisburn Distillery boss, who currently manages Lisburn Rangers in Division 1A, has yet to lose in his role in charge of the NAFL side in their annual showpiece against the Scottish Amateur Football Association, and has every intention of continuing that proud record when the two sides face off at Downshire’s home on the Old Coach Road on May 14.
However that latter aspect - the date - could prove the biggest stumbling block of all, as he sets about repeating the three-in-a-row achievement of the NAFL from 2006 to 2008.
Any keen followers of the Amateur League will have noticed that, on the very same day as the Britton Rosebowl tie, there is a potential Premier Division title decider between two of the leading contenders, Immaculata and Crumlin Star.
This, combined with the unfortunate fixture congestion facing many amateur sides following a punishing winter, in terms of playing conditions and ensuing postponements, is likely to leave Kirk with his biggest selection headache yet ahead of the illustrious fixture.
The Amateur representative boss explained: “There’s no getting away from it. This will be more difficult than it has been in either of the previous two years. They are all hard to win, and the last two games have been close - both 2-1 wins - but this will be especially tough.
“The inclement weather over the last few months has given the Amateur League a really difficult job of having to reschedule the fixture list, but it has left me with two of the best teams playing each other on the day of the (Rosebowl) match. You have to ask how that has happened.
“I have to look at their position. If Lisburn Rangers were in that position, fighting for the Premier Division title, and the Representative manager came in looking a few players, there would be no way he’d be getting them.
“It’s not fair on the players, either. They have got to that stage and have earned the right to play for the title… so I have taken the decision on their behalf. It has meant me having to leave a lot of good players out, although that is the nature of this job. People will always have their opinions.”
The truth is, Kirk only has a rough idea of who will be making his final squad. Yes, he has a list, but there is plenty of potential for injury-enforced changes to impact on that selection.
There has been a core of players that have contributed to the success the NAFL has enjoyed in the past, and it is possible that he may not deviate too far from those, but circumstances seem to be tying his hands particularly tight this season.
He continued: “I have asked the Amateur League if they can extend their rule for three players from one club to four for this year only. They have said no, but there are extenuating circumstances this year. I think they may need to look at that again.”
Kirk is currently targeting club glory with Lisburn Rangers, too, with the club having moved up into Division 1A's top two over the weekend, and if he manages to lead them into next season’s Premier Division, he will have an even better idea about the quality in the Amateur League’s top division, and will regularly be testing his wits against the club managers that have helped him in his representative role.
But that is all for further down the line. For Kirk, for the time being at least, it is all about watching, and waiting...