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How 'Aghalee's Arsene' kept a clean sheet to lift the title

By Eddie McIlwaine

The good folk of Aghalee in Co Antrim should put up a plaque in tribute to their village football team and invite Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal, to unveil it - if he can spare the time from preparing for the FA Cup Final at Wembley against Chelsea.

You see, the Gunners and Aghalee Village FC have something unique in common.

Back in the season 2003-2004, Arsene guided his team to the Premier League title on an undefeated run.

And now manager Glen Meneary has taken Aghalee to the Mid-Ulster Division Three title without losing one of their matches. So, Aghalee - population 342 or thereabouts - is proud of its football sons in a squad transformed in just a couple of seasons into champs by Glen from a side of no-hopers at the bottom of Division Four with only one victory to their name.

First of all, the manager secured promotion soon after taking over at the club and then he and the Village players won 18 matches in a row to ease their way to the Division Three title this season and win promotion to Division Two. "It's a fairytale," says Glen Meneary. "Aghalee Village are no longer the whipping-boys of the Mid-Ulster Division."

He refuses to single out any player for special praise, but goalkeeper Gerard Hartley, who nearly missed the last match of the season (in which Aghalee beat Hillsborough 2-1) because of injury and striker David Costello (at 35, the oldest player in the side) with 35 goals, are recognised as the stars.

Aghalee Village FC, founded in 2003 by villager Joe McCoy and now sponsored by Crumlin hairdresser Peter Alexander, play in blue and white stripes and are candidates for the Junior Team of the Season Award - their big rivals being Dollingstown, who reached the sixth round of the Irish Cup.

Trophy presentation night will be in Boyle's Bar in Crumlin.

New mum Alex is back on our screens

Early-evening BBC 1 viewers will be delighted, just like me, that Alex Jones is back on The One Show at least twice a week.

Alex had a baby in January with husband Charlie Thomson, a New Zealander, and took a few months away from the screen to get to know son Edward.

We all missed Alex (40) as The One Show's partner to Matt Baker and couldn't wait for her to return.

Alex and Charlie met at a party over four years ago and it was love at first sight. Their wedding was in Cardiff in Alex's native Wales.

Alex's first language at home in Carmarthenshire was English, but she was a pupil at the Welsh language school Maes yr Yrfa and is fluent in both.

Perhaps she will give Charlie lessons in Welsh? You never know.

After training as a ballet dancer, she studied theatre, film and television at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth.

Why I can't stay teed off at Rory

I asked six friends if they were annoyed with golfer Roly McIlroy, because he had put his wedding out of bounds and they didn't get to see the pictures.

In reply, three of them weren't even aware Rory was getting married; two others simply weren't interested in him away from the course; and the sixth asked: "Is Rory becoming another Beckham Bighead?"

McIlroy doesn't like putting his ball out of bounds when he's playing golf; it was a different matter, obviously, when it was time for the nuptials.

Anyway, I'll forgive this golfing genius all when he wins another Open Championship for his native province.

For the record, he married (so far as I know) American Erica Stoll at romantic Ashford Castle in Cong, Co Mayo.

This is acorn-y story if ever I heard one

Don't take my word for it, but there is a folksy tale out there in which it is claimed that if you keep the acorns of an oak tree indoors they will protect the house and the inhabitants from thunder and lightning.

That's why the bobbins at the end of blind cords on the windows are always shaped like acorns.

Lina Magill, from Magherafelt, who has carved a few acorn bobbins herself, says it is sinful to cut down an oak tree, which in some parts of the country is still looked on as holy.

Some people carry acorns in their pockets as a good luck charm to preserve youthfulness.

And I've heard about young lovers dropping acorns into a basin of water to find out if they would marry.

If the acorns floated close together, marriage was a definite.

However, if they drifted apart, the nuptials were definitely off.

Even the best of friends must part as John Deacon proves

There's a Friendship Group in Glenavy which caters for the over 50s and has been extending the warm hand of friendship to them for the past 10 years, I learn from one of the organisers Jennifer Slane.

She and her committee organise outings to cinemas and places like Crumlin Road Gaol, and every so often Jennifer persuades celebrities to come and give talks to the members over coffee.

Sounds a great idea and I hope this group's theme song is You're My Best Friend, a hit that was written by John Deacon of Queen in 1976.

There's a rather sad story connected to the talented Deacon, now aged 65.

After he wrote his friendship ballad, dedicated to his wife, this reclusive musician retired and refused to be involved with show business ever again.

Artists draw on their experiences in the lovely Sperrin Mountains

The Sperrin Mountains are the inspiration for an art exhibition at the Roe Valley Cultural Centre in Limavady, which runs until June 24.

Put together by artists who call themselves the Collaborative Art and Kinetic Environments Group, for some curious reason, the show is titled Mountain Reflections.

It follows on from the creative work which was carried out in the mountains by the artists last year.

The exhibition opens today and the artists are laying on a tour of the gallery and there will be workshops too.

I believe that callers will be given tips and lessons on how to transfer the beauty of the Sperrins to the canvas.

The Sperrins really are special peaks, at their best in this early summer. I'm surprised that no one has ever written a poem or a song about the Sperrins.

How a lovely rural scene was spoiled by a sting in the tail

It was a sure sign that summer was on the way when I watched a herd of young cows galloping merrily into a lush meadow after a winter indoors.

Does the word gambol apply here or is it only sheep that gambol?

No matter, the joy with which those animals greeted the grass and the great outdoors was wonderful to behold.

And little wonder they were so excited.

Can you imagine what it is like being cooped up during the dark days of winter when all your instincts urge you to roam free over the lush meadows?

With cows' new found freedom the milk will taste sweeter from now on.

Meanwhile, along the Lough Neagh shoreline the early summer was being welcomed too - by a throng of insects in the sky, blotting out the sun. Not a pleasant sight this time.

Belfast Telegraph


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