Windmill aiming for the Stars
Here’s a question: what do you do when your best players keep leaving your junior-ranked club to play for intermediate or even higher-ranked clubs?
The answer, which may not always be as simple in practice as it is in principle, is to become an intermediate club yourself. Many sides in recent years have shown what can be achieved with ambition and hard work, and Windmill Stars are one of the latest to follow suit.
Traditionally a Newry and Mourne district outfit, the Stars are currently represented at youth level in various league throughout the country, including the Carnbane, Mid Ulster and Lisburn Leagues, while their first team has made the significant transition from the Carnbane to the Mid Ulster league.
In doing so, as members of Intermediate B, they can now compete in tournaments that weren’t previously open to them, and also have the potential for a direct route to the Danske Bank Premiership. There are obstacles still to be overcome to turn that dream into a reality - chiefly, obtaining a ground of their own - but for now, the hierarchy at this ambitious club are more than happy with how things are progressing.
John O’Hanlon has been with the club - firstly as a player, then as assistant manager and manager before taking on his current role of secretary - for the past 25 years, and it’s clear he feels this is an exciting time for the club moving forward.
He said: “The first team are going really well in Intermediate B - they have only drawn one of their league matches and won the other nine. But that hasn’t been a big surprise to me, as we have won the Carnbane Premier Division, Mid Ulster Shield, and Father Davies Cup treble for the past two seasons.
“We had been looking to make the move up for a while, so we were thankful to Armagh City when they came to us over the summer with the offer of a ground-share with them at Holm Park.
“Our youth set-up has really taken off, too. We have over 330 kids on our books now, and while there is a lot of work, everything is going well.
“It was important we got a good youth structure in place, but there is no use in having young players coming up through the system if they leave you to play for intermediate level clubs. We are pushing up now, and one day, we hope to push up into the Irish League.”
At this rate, that day may arrive sooner rather than later, but that largely depends on their ability to get some ground in their locality. This has been an ongoing aim for the best part of a decade, and with the Carnbane League in control of most of the football grounds in the Newry area, the Stars have been involved in years of negotiations with Newry and Mourne District Council as they continue to search for a solution.
To that extent, O’Hanlon is also appealing for anyone who may be able to assist in this area to get in touch with the club to discuss the matter.
In the meantime, however, the only thing that can be done is to make sure everything progresses well on the pitch.
O’Hanlon added: “Ideally we would want to be winning the league this year. With the reshuffle, there could be as many as four teams from the Championship who drop into the Mid Ulster League next season.
“The Mid Ulster League have told us that there may even be three intermediate leagues next year if that’s how things work out. It might only be the winner of Intermediate B who goes up - so that has to be the target.”
No pressure on first team manager Keith McCrigg, then! But in all seriousness, with one of only two undefeated league records in the top two tiers in Mid Ulster (alongside Newry City AFC), the Stars are making steady headway in an impressive debut intermediate campaign.