Billy Weir: Dungannon Swifts' great triumph is a fitting reward for no ordinary Joe
As I trudged my way back from Windsor Park after watching Ballymena United's feeble capitulation in the BetMcLean League Cup final, like any defeated fan it was a long and miserable dander.
Back in the motor and to wallow in more misery, I listened to the aftermath on Radio Ulster as Dungannon Swifts enjoyed their well deserved moment in the limelight.
And then came a familiar voice. Joe McAree, father of Swifts boss Rodney and, let's face it, the main man of the Stangmore Park club, filling up with emotion as he watched his beloved side finally lift their first piece of senior silverware.
It was a wonderful interview with a wonderful man. My fondest memory of Joe is travelling to cover a match at Dungannon one New Year to find on arrival that, while most of the bowling green Stangmore surface was perfect, there was one stretch in front of the stand that would have been perfect for curling.
I think he could sense incredulity on my face as the sun was splitting the stones, and so off we went on a lap of the ground and, of course, he was right, but then again he knows every blade of that grass and every inch of the club.
That walk around the pitch chewing the cud with Joe is one of my fondest memories as a reporter, no media man hanging over your shoulder in case you ask something they may not like, or ultra-cautious managers desperate to say the right thing with monosyllabic nothingness.
We shook hands after our tour and I was told, 'Make sure you come in for a cup of tea before you go'. As I asked him on departure, 'What does an Irish League manager do when a game is called off?' his answer of, 'Have a feed of drink' will go with me to the grave.
Well, I hope he had a quare feed of drink, or at least a good strong cup of tea, on Saturday night because he, Rodney and the rest of the McAree clan, mum Carol included, certainly deserved it.
The Swifts were superb, and proof that you can win things with kids, although it may take a little time for that to happen with no fewer than seven of the winning side having come though the ranks of Dungannon Youths.
Nowadays youth football is flourishing, but when Joe and the small band of merry men and women who have put football on the map in Tyrone were starting out they were the exception rather than the rule.
"Back in 1997 I made a statement at a board meeting," Joe said this week.
"'The future of your club is in the youth of your community. Neglect the youth of your community, and you neglect your club'.
"Do you know how many Irish League clubs at that time had an Under-11, an Under-12, an Under-13 team? None. They had only Under-18 teams - youth teams.
"But we had an Under-11 team, we then had an Under-12 team, an Under-13 team and so on. We now have 14 junior teams playing every Saturday."
Joe still plays a massive part on that side of the set-up. When he handed over the managerial reins having guided the Swifts to two fourth-placed finishes in the league - which is an incredible achievement in itself - things were never going to be the same.
Harry Fay, John Cunningham and Dixie Robinson all had spells as manager before another of Dungannon's favourites sons, Darren Murphy, and Joe's son Rodney shared the role before McAree Jnr took over sole possession of the job.
And it is very much in the Swifts way. They play football the way it should be played, certainly Ballymena had no answer to it on Saturday, the 8-9-10 axis of Ryan Mayse, Paul McElroy and Ryan Harpur gave them hell, running them all over the Windsor Park pitch and not giving them a minute's peace.
Chris Hegarty and David Armstrong - my man of the match - were magnificent at the back and snuffed out United's much-vaunted hitmen Cathair Friel and Johnny McMurray.
Cormac Burke, Kris Lowe and Jarlath O'Rourke were a menace throughout, Seanan Clucas and Grant Hutchinson set the foundations in the middle and finally, let's hear it for Stuart Addis. The goalkeeping veteran has served a plethora of clubs down the years, often having to bide his time on the bench as back-up, but given his chance he grabbed it with both hands and pulled off two wonderful saves to ensure victory.
And some might say there was sentiment too in Rodney's decision to send on Terry Fitzpatrick with 10 minutes to go, but not a bit of it, he was needed to settle things down when Harpur saw red for his clash with Kofi Balmer.
It couldn't spoil the day though, and the skipper returned to lift the trophy but made sure that Fitzpatrick, who has been at Dungannon for what seems decades, was right beside him to hoist the trophy aloft. That says it all about the club.
Yes, as a fan it's never nice to lose, especially in a cup final, but for Joe, Rodney, all other McArees, Dungannon Youths - young and not so young - the board and the players, what a night and what an achievement.
In the words of Joe, I raise a cup of tea or something a wee bit stronger to you all.
It’s time to get real, not Ronnie, at The Oval
I am a big fan of Gary Haveron and make no apologies for it, and those who gave him the boot yesterday should hang their heads in shame.
The club statement said that he had ‘shown unrelenting enthusiasm and commitment to the role and to securing a positive future for Glentoran. His work rate never wavered and he has been an outstanding ambassador’. That was a strange start to showing someone the door.
But not as strange as, ‘Despite strong backing for Gary’s rebuilding plans in both the summer and January transfer windows, results and performances in recent months have shown little or no improvement on the same period last season’.
Rebuilding plans? Good to see those January acquisitions were given all of three weeks to set the world on fire.
And ‘results have shown little or no improvement’? Do me a favour.
The Glens are sixth in the table and in the quarter-finals of the Irish Cup — just what else do the fans and board expect this season?
There are clearly, at least, five much better teams than them, but it is hardly surprising when they have a budget that would just about get you a 10p mix-up.
And the suggestion that now he has been ousted , the legend that is Ronnie McFall will come in until the end of the season to join Roy Coyle in a Waldorf and Statler double act is something that Jim Henson wouldn’t even have thought of.
There are some good kids coming through at The Oval, two more putting pen to paper this week, but like Gary should have had, they need time.
Have the Glens not learned anything? Alan McDonald, Eddie Patterson anyone? But then again, why are we surprised?
Local football needs a strong Glentoran, not one that panics time after time.
I have two words for you — Oran Kearney. You’d have had him out the door in the blink of an eye.
At long last Sky have discovered that there are grounds outside of Belfast and their next live offering will be at Warrenpoint Town when they host Crusaders next month. Great to see them get their chance and I await many haunting images of the Mournes accompanied by diddly-di music.
Billy tackles...Stephen Garrett
AFTER my winter break, I am back refreshed and raring to go for the final push to the title — or in my case, a fight for survival.
In the much-changed fixture list of two weeks ago it meant myself and Chris Hegarty fought out a low-scoring affair with only three games to choose from and, as seems to be the way of late, the Dungannon man got the better of the Ballymena one.
Next up to heap more misery upon my shapely shoulders is Cliftonville’s Stephen Garrett, and I can but hope his predicting skills are as haphazard as the Reds’ form at the minute!
The usual rules apply, he can’t predict his side’s clash with Glentoran but it’s three points for an exact scoreline in the other games and one for the correct outcome.
Crusaders v Ballymena Utd: Saturday (3.00pm)
The away side will be looking to bounce back after losing the League Cup final but that’s no easy task at Seaview. Crusaders did well to make a game of things at Inverness having been 3-0 down at half-time. I expect goals in this one and think Crusaders will edge it at home.
Garrett prediction: 4-2
Weir prediction: 3-1
Coleraine v Warrenpoint Town: Saturday (3.00pm)
Coleraine just keep grinding out results to keep themselves in the title mix. All eyes will be firmly fixed on three valuable points in the title chase. Warrenpoint have impressed me this season but having lost a lot of their key firepower in January I think a home win is likely.
Garrett prediction: 3-0
Weir prediction: 2-1
Carrick Rangers v Glenavon: Saturday (3.00pm)
Carrick had a great result away to Ards recently but have lost the last two by just a one-goal margin. I expect the trend to continue against a strong Glenavon side.
Garrett prediction: 1-2
Weir prediction: 1-3
Dungannon Swifts v Ballinamallard Utd: Saturday (3.00pm)
Dungannon will no doubt be in buoyant mood after their recent success but sometimes cup winners have a hangover in the next game or two. Ballinamallard will be fighting for their lives so I expect a very close contest. There could be just a goal in it either way but I’ll sit firmly on the fence and go for a draw.
Garrett prediction: 2-2
Weir prediction: 1-2
Ards v Linfield: Saturday (3.00pm)
Ards bounced back from a heavy defeat to Glenavon with a valuable three points in a great 2-1 win at The Oval last week. I expect a close, cagey encounter. Ards will look to frustrate Linfield but I think the Blues may just have enough to get the three points.
Garrett prediction: 0-1
Weir prediction: 1-3
Season standings: Weir 6 Players 13