Youth the key for St Luke's as they prepare for tasty Harryville clash
St Luke’s joint manager Paul McManus insists the youth of the club are an important part of their future… but they are every bit as vital a part of their present.
In fact, this season’s new management team of McManus and Davy Munster question if they would even have a club to work with, were it not for the contribution of their dedicated youngsters.
McManus originally took over as the manager of a newly-formed Under-19 team at St Luke’s shortly after hanging up his own football boots having spent most of his twenties and some of his thirties at the club.
But when former first team manager Sean O’Rourke stepped down from the helm, ex-St Luke’s captain McManus and his good friend and former Crusaders, Donegal Celtic and Ballymena United defender Munster decided to step up to the challenge of overseeing both teams.
And reflecting on the importance of the Under-19s, McManus admitted: “We wouldn’t be where we are if we didn’t have them.
“It has been a lot of work - me and Dee have been going with the Under-19s on Saturday mornings then off with the firsts in the afternoons. But then, it’s been the same for a few of the players… some of them have joined us on the bench after 90 minutes in the morning.
“We were struggling to bring in players from our own area (Twinbrook), but thankfully the young players have stepped in when we have needed them.”
The rewards of the commitment of all connected at the club are beginning to show already, and the rate of growth and development is perhaps most impressive of all.
The Under-19s are flying high in the South Belfast League, and won the SBYL League Cup earlier this month. It bodes well for the club as a whole that most of those players will be in a position to defend that trophy next season - if, of course, they aren’t too busy with the firsts!
Things are going well at second team level, too, with the reserves holding their own in Division 3B of the Amateur League after lifting last season’s 3C title.
The arrival of former Donegal Celtic man Sean Hawkins to the coaching staff is another major coup that will add to the high-level experience and potential contacts of Munster and McManus’ own know-how gleaned from coaching underage side Glendowan in the National Youth League for the best part of a decade. A rejuvenated committee has also contributed to the positive atmosphere surrounding the club.
On the playing side, St Luke’s were delighted to welcome back Aaron McKinney from Crumlin United, and he has continued his trademark, red-hot goalscoring form with 22 goals already in the time since his arrival a few games into the season.
Second in Division 2A, 10 points behind Tullycarnet with four games in hand, and an application submitted to gain entry to intermediate football next season if they succeed in clinching that all-important top spot, things are looking extremely promising for this ambitious outfit.
Yet there is one very interesting sub-plot. It takes place this weekend, over 30 miles up the M2 at Wakehurst Playing Fields in Ballymena.
Harryville Homers have won back-to-back Junior Cups, and after a three-year absence from the Junior Shield, it is clear this silverware is one they are intent on getting their hands on. It is St Luke’s job to try and bring that ambition to an end on Saturday (1.30pm).
“I’ve never seen them play before, but we have been getting reports on them,” admitted McManus. “They have been down to watch us against Hill Street a couple of weeks ago, too, so obviously they are taking it seriously. It’s a big game for both teams, because you could probably say whoever wins it will be the favourites for the Junior Shield.
“I don’t fear them...I am looking forward to it. It will give us all a good idea of where we are right now.”