Roofer Ryan Henderson is hoping the only way is up as he helps build Donegal Celtic’s survival bid in the Carling Premiership — and is loving every minute of his debut season in senior football.
Midfielder Henderson, who recently quit the Armagh GAA senior football squad to concentrate on Celtic’s plight, has nailed down a remarkable seven goals and has caught the eye of opposing managers to boot.
Described by Donegal Celtic boss Paddy Kelly as “the find of the season”, Henderson bagged an impressive double in Tuesday’s surprise 3-1 defeat of Lisburn Distillery at Ballyskeagh. He has emerged as a central figure in Celtic’s recent resurgence and believes the west Belfast club can remain in the Premiership.
Discovered by former Donegal Celtic boss Marty Tabb when he was in charge of Lurgan Celtic, Henderson now looks set for a lengthy and successful stay in Irish League football.
Henderson said: “I’m glad I settled for one sport and that I can concentrate fully on Donegal Celtic and getting results. So far I am pleased with how my game has improved and it feels good to be part of the team and playing as a regular in it.
“I was very happy with Lurgan Celtic because that is my local club and I grew up watching them play.
“I was a bit apprehensive about making the step up because I didn’t know anyone at Donegal Celtic and knew little about the club but it is a great place, the people involved are superb and the supporters are really involved, which is important.”
Currently at the foot of the table, they are within touching distance of Newry City and just three points adrift of ninth-placed Dungannon Swifts.
But today it is a scorned Glentoran that Celtic face at The Oval.
In a recent league clash with the Glens in east Belfast, decided by a Mattie Burrows goal, Celtic were
without six first-team regulars. Since then, Henderson and his battling team-mates have defeated Linfield, drawn with Cliftonville and disposed of Lisburn Distillery — form only dented by a luckless defeat at Dungannon Swifts.
Henderson added: “I was told in December that Donegal Celtic traditionally play better after Christmas and so far that is proving true. The players really believe in themselves now — it’s as if we are a different team. We are fitter and more confident and I think Paddy Kelly and (assistant manager) Harry Fay are finally putting their stamp on the squad.
“We know every game is going to be massive from now to the end of the season and we know we have to go in to every one knowing we can’t afford to drop points.”
Due to a knee injury Henderson was hindered in his efforts to land his first senior hat-trick on Tuesday and is looking forward to a rest when suspended next week.
He added: “My knee has been sore for a few weeks and it can be a struggle to get through 90 minutes. “Paddy Kelly took me off on Tuesday but it was a smart decision and I’m ready to go again against Glentoran.”
There will be a pitch inspection at the Oval this morning (11am).