Regent House schoolboy tipped for big future as Heron delivers debut goal for Ards
Jonah Heron will be back at school tomorrow. The 16-year-old will have plenty to talk about at Regent House in Newtownards after scoring one of the most important goals in the history of his hometown club.
Entering yesterday's final round of league fixtures, Ards knew a draw would be enough to finish 11th and earn a place in the promotion/relegation Play-Off against Carrick Rangers or Portadown.
That's exactly what they got at Warrenpoint thanks to the young central midfielder, who was initially on the bench.
An injury to Callum Byers in the warm-up led to manager Warren Feeney throwing the teenager into his starting line-up and, just 21 minutes into the contest, Heron's shot, after Town failed to clear a corner, deflected into the net.
Heron's team-mate Eoghan McCawl said the ball went in off him, but he was happy for the Northern Ireland under-17 skipper to claim the goal in his senior club bow.
No doubt news of that early goal at Warrenpoint would have reached Newry. Darren Mullen's men needed to win well and hope neighbours Town defeated Ards to move off the bottom and avoid automatic relegation. Neither scenario occurred.
Feeney deserves credit for steering Ards into 11th place after replacing Colin Nixon in February. There is a steeliness about his team and when the heat was on they collected eight points from their final four games.
After the break the home side came on strong, with substitutes Lee Duffy and Ciaran O'Connor prominent. They equalised on 49 minutes when the alert Philip Donnelly turned in Francis McCaffrey's drive into the box, and in the latter stages Danny Wallace and O'Connor went close for Town.
Ultimately Warrenpoint finished 10th in the table and can be content with a campaign in which they went far in knock-out competitions and impressed with attractive football.
The match at Milltown though was more about Ards living to fight another day and a sensational introduction to the Irish League for Heron.
"I've been at Ards all my life, so to make my debut for the first team and score an important goal was just amazing," said the teenager.
"This is my 10th year at the club and my first year with the senior team. The manager (Feeney) gives me a lot of confidence and believes in me. I'm very thankful to him that he gave me the opportunity to play against Warrenpoint.
"It was great to score but nothing is done yet. We still have another two matches in the Play-Off and we have to deliver in those to make sure we stay up."
On returning to school tomorrow, he said: "My school friends won't let me to get too big for my boots. They will probably rake me a bit for scoring on my debut and I'm sure they will be pleased as well."
Feeney said: "I was actually going to start the kid. I picked the team on Thursday night with my staff and then for some reason I decided to change it and put him on the bench.
"Once Calum got injured I went with Jonah. I believe if they are good enough they are old enough. If you throw a baby into water the baby will swim!
"At times Jonah made the game look easy. He is with Club NI and I had a good chat with Jim Magilton about him and Jim loves him. He has a big future if he keeps his feet on the ground and takes advice on board.
"I have every confidence in him and won't be scared to throw in him again."
On the upcoming Play-Offs, Feeney (right) added: "We still have a lot of work to do and whoever we play we will show them respect."
Town boss Stephen McDonnell said: "I would have liked Newry to survive because they are our neighbours, but unfortunately they haven't done enough over 38 games. To be fair to Ards and Warren, they deserve to make the Play-Offs."
WARRENPOINT TOWN: Thompson 6, Moan 6, Reilly 6, Kelly 6 (J Lynch 80) 6, McCaffrey 7, M Lynch 6 (Duffy 39) 6, Scannell 6 (O'Connor 46) 7, Wallace 6, Donnelly 7, Macedo Marques 6, Young 6. Subs not used: Turker, McGrandles.
ARDS: Johnston 6, Kerr 6, McAllister 7 (Bennett 75) 6, Heron 8, Taylor 7, McLellan 6 (Henderson 65) 6, J Kelly 6 (Shearer 80) 6, Tommons 6, McAleenan 6, McCawl 7, McNulty 7. Subs not used: Davidson, M Kelly.
Referee: Shane Andrews 6.