Newry's new Premiership stars pay to play, reveals boss Mullen
Newry City manager Darren Mullen has revealed that his heroic players who achieved promotion to the Danske Bank Irish Premiership are not paid by the club and actually hand over £5 each week for the honour of putting on the shirt.
The team and those connected with it, from the boss to his backroom staff, have literally bought into the jersey to achieve extraordinary success.
In a stunning Irish League season, filled with fairytale stories, the remarkable rise of Newry City AFC might just top the lot.
Back in 2012, Newry City's IFA membership was terminated following a High Court winding up order.
The club was no more and its fans had no-one to support.
Inspired by local man Mullen and an enthusiastic team of volunteers, Newry City Athletic Football Club was formed in March 2013, played at the Showgrounds and began a spectacular journey which has led them to top flight football in Northern Ireland.
They started out in Mid Ulster Intermediate B, moving up to Mid Ulster Intermediate A, then the Premier Intermediate League and Championship, before on Wednesday night 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.
In both legs, Newry went behind early on but, in a fitting tribute to their short history, bounced back in style to reach the big league where the likes of Crusaders, Coleraine, Glenavon, Linfield, Cliftonville, Glentoran and near neighbours Warrenpoint Town lie in wait.
And it's all been achieved without the manager or players receiving a penny. Instead, they dip into their pockets, with Newry coach and Portadown goalkeeping legend Mickey Keenan collecting cash for the club, who have operated this way for the last five years.
Inspirational figure Mullen said: "The players don't get paid, there is no budget, these are all local lads who have bought into the jersey.
"For example, Mickey Keenan collected £90 subs on the way to Carrick, with players giving £5 each. At the Showgrounds, the boys don't get past the door unless they pay their subs.
"They pay £5 per week. It is a credit to them. There are a lot of them that could have gone to other teams for money but it outlines the bond that is at the club and how much they enjoy playing for this side. There's a terrific environment and atmosphere at the club and that has brought out the best in the players.
"There are other teams who have spent money and haven't got to this stage, but it shows what can be achieved if you have a bunch of lads willing to work hard and put pride in the shirt."
Whether the wages situation changes in line with other top flight sides remains to be seen. What's certain is that Newry and their fans will savour the summer and relish a shot at the big boys come August.
"We are under no illusions, it will be very difficult. But at the same time I'd rather be there facing those challenges rather than be, with respect to Mid Ulster Intermediate B, where we started out," said Mullen.
"It's Roy of the Rovers stuff. It's been a collective effort. Everyone has played their part and I'm delighted for all of them. I'm a proud Newry man and to manage my hometown club was a dream, and to be manager going into the Premiership is amazing.
"We have played a good brand of attacking, exciting football for the past five years and stuck to our principles, and I think it is good for the league to have a Newry side back in the top flight. We have good facilities, support that is increasing and the club can really grow now.
"I didn't think it would happen this fast. We have made something incredibly difficult look quite easy but it hasn't been easy at all. It has been a serious amount of hard work. What we have done is put an immense sense of pride back into Newry and the jersey."