Belfast Telegraph

Newry keen to write new chapters in fairytale story: Mullen

By Graham Luney

The Irish League has witnessed some famous comebacks, from Coleraine's emergence from their financial woes to Crusaders' revival following relegation in 2005.

All are remarkable achievements but there's something truly special about Newry City coming back from the dead.

It's entirely appropriate that the club should play their first ever game at the Brandywell on Saturday - Institute are using the ground for their home games - as the Danske Bank Premiership kicks off because it's just another chapter in their history-making exploits.

Irish League football has not been played at the Brandywell since 1971 when Derry City were forced to shift their home games to the Coleraine Showgrounds in the interests of safety.

The club then withdrew from the league in 1972 and later joined the League of Ireland in 1985.

But Newry's phenomenal rise to the top flight wasn't even a dream when the club's IFA membership was terminated following a High Court winding-up order in September 2012.

Without the passion and dedication of local man and manager Darren Mullen and an enthusiastic team of volunteers, Newry could have sunk without a trace but not only have they remained afloat, they have reached the promised land.

They started out in Mid Ulster Intermediate B, moving up to Mid Ulster Intermediate A, then the Premier Intermediate League and Championship, before clinching their place in the Irish Premiership after a 3-1 victory at Carrick Rangers and 6-3 aggregate success in a dramatic promotion/relegation play-off.

While the dream has been realised, there's also a feeling this is a new dawn with exciting possibilities.

Just how many more glorious chapters are there in this story?

Mullen could be forgiven for patting himself on the back but Newry haven't worked this hard to settle for making up the numbers in the top flight.

"It's a complete change for us," said Mullen. "I feel like I've done an accountancy course this summer because we have to set up a payroll.

"I'm happy with the coaching role but I'm inevitably involved in other aspects. The club is becoming smarter about off-the-field matters.

"The committee will change in terms of its structure but on the pitch the quality has gone up and it needs to.

"Players know they must raise their game. No one is guaranteed their place whether you played last season or not.

"The quality of training has risen and there is a hunger there to succeed. It's a great opportunity for the players to play at this level.

"I could have signed plenty of players but they need that hunger to succeed. Someone told me it will be the first time Newry have played at the Brandywell.

"I'm really looking forward to it as I know Paddy McLaughlin very well from my coaching badges.

"He's a good lad and there's a lot of excitement around that fixture. We just want to finish as high as we can.

"If you set 10th as a target straight away the players are in a relegation battle. We have all agreed let's give it a go and finish as high as we can.

"Of course it will be difficult but it's an exciting challenge. We have huge respect for the teams and their managers but we will show no fear.

"As a manager it's a thrill to test yourself against the best managers. I'll make mistakes but it's how you react and I've a really good coaching staff to lean on.

"We've always set out with a professional mindset so the changes are not dramatic.

"We are as professional as possible with regards to training sessions and the players have enjoyed them. Hopefully they will enjoy their football and do themselves justice."

The return of goalkeeper Andy Coleman from Dungannon Swifts is a nice homecoming story while other new faces include Dale Montgomery, Stephen Teggart, Stefan Lavery, Tiarnan Rushe, Conall Delaney and Noel Healy.

Chris McMahon, Ruairi Cunningham, Robbie Mackin and Martin Havern, meanwhile, have left the club.

Newry City will inevitably encounter a few bumps on the road but there's a steely resolve to stick around in the Premiership.

"Mental toughness is important because football can be tough," added Mullen. "There will be setbacks for us going forward. I'd rather be playing Premiership football and worrying about that than trying to get there."

Belfast Telegraph

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