Irish League legend Colin Nixon has revealed he aims to take Dundela into the Danske Bank Premiership after becoming the new manager at Wilgar Park.
The ex-Glentoran hero is overjoyed to be back in the dug-out and says the Dundela job “ticked all the boxes” for him to make a return after being axed by Ards in February last year.
The east Belfast outfit, who finished sixth in this season’s Championship which was truncated by the coronavirus pandemic, have ambitious plans which resonate with 41-year-old Nixon.
“Dundela are redeveloping the stadium and they want to get to the Premiership which is a vision that really appeals to me,” Nixon told the Belfast Telegraph.
“Will it happen overnight? No, but we have a really good foundation and I will be looking to bring our talented youngsters through to work with our senior players at first team level and I hope to attract new players to the club who can help us push on.
“Not only do I want to get to the top flight, I want to build something sustainable where we can stay there.
“Dundela is a forward-thinking club and they tick all the boxes for me. I see the partnership as a perfect fit.”
The feeling is mutual, as the club hopes Nixon’s appointment is the most significant step to realising their ambitious top tier dream.
“They don’t come much bigger for Dundela than Colin Nixon,” beamed club secretary Jim Steed. “His career goes before him.
“We know Colin will have his own ideas and there will be comings and goings so we're not going to turn round at Christmas and say it’s not working. We’re hoping Colin and his backroom staff are here for the long haul.”
In its 125 year history, the east Belfast club has never quite made it into the Irish League’s highest division.
That’s despite being arguably the most successful ever lower division club, with 10 B Division / Second Division titles between 1968 and 2001.
The club has since flitted between the second and third tiers of the Irish League, relegation from the Championship in 2008 coming as a result of failure to meet the criteria for league restructuring.
Promotion in 2012 yield a three-year stay back in the Championship but, after relegation was confirmed on the pitch in 2015, the club could even have slipped out of the Irish League altogether a year later.
“I went to Portstewart on the last day of that season and saw us win to stay in the league,” recalls Steed.
The Premier Intermediate League title was delivered two years later and has now been followed by two top half Championship finishes.
It’s a trajectory that the club hope is going to continue under new management.
“Dundela had a difficult spell off the pitch over relatively recent years but the drive was there and the seed had been planted to try and progress,” explains Steed. “When the club got over the hardship off the pitch, things started to progress again and it’s been turned round.
“It was always a family-orientated club. With local people taking a better interest in it and us taking a better interest in the community, this is where we find ourselves today. The dream is to go as high as we can.”
To that end, the club’s Wilgar Park home is currently undergoing something of a makeover. A new floodlight system has been installed, £20,000 has been spent to upgrade the terracing and, most significantly, a new 400-seater stand is currently being erected on the Dundela Avenue side of the ground, opposite the main stand and social club.
Steed is hopeful those improvements will be enough to get the Irish FA seal of approval for life in the Premiership, should promotion be attained. In order to get a Premiership license, grounds must have a minimum of 2,000 capacity including 200 covered seats and an additional 800 covered spaces.
Now all that’s required are the performances on the pitch to make the ambitions a reality.
“I am really impressed by the committee with their desire and ideas and I think their dream is achievable,” added new boss Nixon. “They will get total commitment from me and I won’t rest until we secure promotion.
“The club has a great tradition and I know most of the people involved in Dundela. They have been brilliant to deal with in the last few weeks. It is the 125th anniversary of the club this year and the success at lower level has been phenomenal. Now we have our sights set on moving into the top division.”
Nixon takes over from the previous management team of Bryan McCarroll, Russell Bowers and Stephen Gourley, who had their resignations reluctantly accepted due to off-field circumstances.
It’s a welcome path back into football for the 41-year-old, who coached H&W Welders U20s before over two years in his first senior management role at Ards, where he was ultimately dismissed.
“I think we were harshly dealt with at Ards after all the good work we did but you have to re-build and think about things and that is what I have done. Now I am absolutely thrilled to be manager of Dundela,” added Nixon, who was close to becoming Glentoran boss on two occasions having made a record 792 appearances for the Oval team.
“At Ards I learnt a lot about dealing with players and dealing with low budgets and I have analysed myself since and feel I can be a better manager because of it.
“I was always keen to return to management because I felt that I had a lot to offer.
“Dundela have given me that opportunity and I am determined to repay them. It is a massive challenge but one that I am excited about. We don’t know when the new season will start but what I do know is that my players and our team will be ready whenever it is.”