The mutual respect between the managers of Ards Rangers and Drumaness Mills is clear for all to see… but what also goes without saying is that there will be no quarter given when the two teams take each other on in the Border Cup semi-final at Seaview on Monday night (November 24, 7.30pm).
Rangers boss Lee Forsythe was one of the first on the phone to his Drumaness counterpart Desi Campbell on the final day of last season, when a 1-1 draw with Shankill United was enough to land them their first top flight league title in 25 years.
Just 12 days later, Campbell showed he doesn’t let goodwill or sentiment get in the way of the important business of football when his side defeated Rangers 2-1 in the Clarence Cup final at Killyleagh Showgrounds to complete a double.
Now, another six months down the line, as Drumaness look to capture their third trophy of the calendar year, it is Forsythe’s side who carry all the form, with a 100 per cent record from their eight Premier Division games so far, while Mills are languishing at the foot of the table with just one league win from five.
His approach, just like Campbell’s, will be merciless and unrelenting when it comes to the match ahead of him, and rightly so. Neither manager would have it any other way.
Forsythe remarked: “Desi is a gentleman, he is a lovely fella. There are some managers that you don’t always get on with, but that would never be the case with him.
“He was joking with me at the draw that we were the team he didn’t want to get in the semi-finals, but we are not falling into their mind games. They maybe haven’t got off to the start they wanted, but they have only lost two games in the league, and by all accounts, they were disappointing defeats. They are fooling no-one… you don’t have the quality to win the double and then suddenly turn into a bad team.”
Rangers have been in formidable form this season, but Forsythe correctly points out that they enjoyed a similar rich vein of results in the previous campaign, that seemingly went under the radar.
He continued: “We are on a good run, but we did an even better one last season (winning ten games in a row). It doesn’t really matter, if you end up with nothing to show for it – last season proved that.
“I think everyone is more wary this season. Without any disrespect to the cups, the league is the one they all want to win. You only have to be in our changing room to see that… their focus has been unbelievable.
“I have seen the difference. We scored a last minute winner against Ardglass in the league and you could see what it meant to them… we did the same against Crumlin United in the Border Cup, and it hardly even raised a cheer.”
For Campbell, this fixture is about the psychological edge a victory might give his players as they seek to claw back the huge 19-point gap their semi-final points have already amassed over Drumaness.
The Meadowvale manager stated: “Of course it’ll be psychological… there’s no two ways about it. A defeat or two can knock you back, and if we could turn them over in the cup, then it could have a knock on effect in the league.
“The main aim for us was to defend our title, and that still is the case. Obviously Ards Rangers have had an unbelievable start, but they can still be caught.
“Mentality plays a big part in it. Sometimes when you win a league and a cup, it can be hard to get everyone into the right frame of mind. There have been other factors too… we are only really getting back near full-strength now, with players coming back from injury, new boys only starting to settle, and the Gaelic over.”
A thumping 4-1 victory over Nortel – their first league win of the campaign – last weekend, suggests Campbell may have a point.
And despite any throwaway remarks about having his fingers crossed to avoid the current runaway leaders, this is a game the Drumaness boss and his players are very much looking forward to.
Campbell added: “Me and Lee are good friends, he is a nice lad, and it will be good to pit our wits against each other again.
“I did say at the draw to Lee it wasn’t the draw we were looking for, but you are probably going to have to meet them some time if you want to win it. And anyway, Crumlin Star are no bad outfit, and the way Downpatrick are going in 1A, they might as well be a Premier Division side.
“There are no easy teams at this stage, but we will be doing everything we can to make it to the final.”