Unbeaten league run a boost for Abbey Villa as they prepare for third Dunmurry test
As Abbey Villa manager TJ Young looks ahead to his side’s Irish Cup third round with fellow Division 1A side Dunmurry Rec this Saturday, he admits he has kept a passing interest in other knockout competitions too.
At present, the Amateur League's first major silverware of the season, the Border Cup, has reached the semi-final stage, with the final four composed of one Premier Division team and three from 1A.
And while Young wouldn't be human if he didn't wish Villa were there, he is more than happy with how things are progressing this season.
Top of the heap with an almost perfect record of eight wins from nine league games so far, his side are entitled to play without pressure in this weekend’s fixture, despite the fact that victory would put them within a game of the coveted fifth round, when all the Premiership big guns enter the fray.
But progress on all fronts is a demanding ask for anyone, as Young well knows.
He said: “The three 1A teams in the (Border Cup) semi-finals have done well, and I do envy a bit that it's them there and not us, but would they swap that for our place in the table? I think they might.
“Without telling you what my goals were, I have to say at the start of pre-season, I wasn't all that optimistic. We have a great team, but the problem is, I don't have a great squad. I literally have 15 players to choose from.
“It is nice to be top, but I think the league gives you a bit of a false reading at the minute. Without any disrespect to any of the teams we have beaten, we have yet to play East Belfast, Comber Rec, Rathfriland Rangers and St Pat’s YM - and they are the teams we will have to finish ahead of.”
The lack of player numbers at his disposal gives Young, by his own admission, an easy task when it comes to squad rotation - something he will be eager to partake in when it comes to this weekend’s cup tie.
The Villa boss continued: “I am using cup games to give other boys a chance, but I suppose the good thing about having a small squad is that all the players get plenty of game time. There aren’t many changes to make.
“We have already played Dunmurry twice (a 3-0 home win at the end of September and an away 3-3 draw at the weekend), and it will be a completely different game, though I am expecting it to be tough. They were unbeaten when we beat them, and they have some very good players.”
It’s clear that Young and his players aren’t putting all their eggs in the Irish Cup basket, but at the same time, there’s no question progress to the next round would help continue the winning mentality that seems to be surrounding the Millisle club at present.
Such spirit was unquestionably a key component to the success the club enjoyed under Graham and Mark Bailie in a spell which brought the Border Cup in 2007 and a sixth round Irish Cup place in the same season.
Now Young - who took over the mantle from the Bailie brothers - is looking to create some history of his own.
He added: “What the Bailies did for us was superb… This is my fifth season now, and it’s fair to say I have progressed each year.
"Some of the players that have won the Border Cup have told me this is the best side they have been in, so it is good to hear we are going in the right direction."
Silverware will always be the most solid confirmation of that progress, but if this promising side can continue their fantastic start to the season into the weeks and months ahead, and sprinkle a little of that magic in the Irish Cup too, success will surely not be too far around the corner.