Shankill out to make waves against the Seasiders
In order to fully enjoy the good times, you must have experienced the tough times - and Shankill United manager Robert Robinson hopes there are plenty of the former coming the way of his team in the next few years.
Having rescued the club from impending relegation last season, he and all those behind their emphatic top flight survival can look forward to fixtures like this Saturday’s Intermediate Cup third round meeting with Championship One side Bangor with a sense of optimism and positivity.
Following last weekend’s Irish Cup fifth round, where very few upsets were sprung, it is another chance for Amateur League clubs to prove they have what it takes to mix it with clubs in divisions above them.
And with Bangor coming off the back of a three-game league run in which they have only managed to pick up one point, could it be a good time for Shankill to be facing the Seasiders?
“You could say any time is a good time,” suggested Robinson. “We are major underdogs against Bangor, but it is a big day for us to go and play a Championship team. It also gives the young players a test.
“We won’t be going there to make up the numbers though, we never do. I have never been one to just take part in anything, and am always out to win.”
A quick glance at his winner’s medals tells you Robinson is as good as his word. A former team-mate of Bangor’s Garth Scates at Ballymena and Linfield, the ex-goalkeeper has won every honour in the game bar the Irish Cup, including the likes of the Intermediate Cup and Steel and Sons Cup.
Yet despite his obvious desire to cause an upset on Saturday and make further progress in this competition, there is always the argument that the increased number of fixtures this brings as a result can often have negative consequences - especially for a team currently just two points behind Premier Division leaders and derby rivals Albert Foundry. The club’s experience in the previous campaign has taught him that much.
Robinson continued: “Last season, we got to the final of the Clarence Cup, but lost, which was obviously hard to take.
“We ended up playing Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, which is absolutely ridiculous for people who work all day. You hear these players on £200k a week complaining about this sort of thing, but just imagine what they’d be like if they had to do it after a 10 our 12 hour shift like our boys.
“Of course it adds to our games, but if we are good enough to keep going in these competitions, then that’s what I want to see us do.”
The turnaround at the Hammer Sports Complex since the arrival of Robinson and his backroom team around Christmas last season has been remarkable. Seemingly doomed at that stage, with just six points from 13 matches, they completed the second half of the season as one of the Premier Division’s form teams, clinching 23 points from the remaining 13 games and finishing ninth.
They have continued that winning form into this season, launching themselves into third place in what is beginning to shape up as the most open title race in years.
So, having made such heady progress in such a small amount of time, what would represent success for Shankill this season?
Robinson stated: “We are just a wee club getting up and going, while you have established clubs like Ards Rangers, Albert Foundry, Crumlin Star and Immaculata who are always going to be there or thereabouts.
“This year is a building block for us, so if we can be competitive at the top end of the table, and finish in the top five, that would have to be a success for this season.”
Add an Intermediate Cup run into the equation and it would be even sweeter!