Club focus: Armagh City
The last 15 years has been a remarkable experience for the fans of Armagh City Football Club.
From entering the senior game in 1999 the club has lived through an unbeaten season, two relegations, near bankruptcy, an ill-fated experiment with Spanish based players and the installation of a 3G pitch.
Now in 2014, Armagh City are on the verge of what is arguably their most remarkable season yet.
City have already bagged the Bob Radcliffe Cup and thanks to last week's 1-0 win over Institute in the Coca-Cola Intermediate Cup, they will now face Bangor in the final on May Day. Add to that an impressive Irish Cup run that saw them topple Ards and frighten Glentoran, it's fair to say it's been a great season for The Eagle.
But the real barometer of their success comes in the league. City are hoping to land one of the two promotion slots at the top of the Belfast Telegraph Championship Two, although they face stiff competition from both the PSNI and Queen's University.
Reflecting on the last few seasons, manager Marty Rice believes their success is down their youth system.
“When I took up the job it was a case of rebuilding the club. They enjoyed a couple of good years in the Premiership but the money they spent on wages during that era damaged the club and they had been relegated twice as a result.
“We decided to put the focus on youth football and develop our own talent. To be honest, we didn't have many other options.
“We focused on player development. We took young players from the local area and tried to make them the best players they can possibly be. If you look at our current first team squad most of them have came through our youth system.
“We won the Harry Cavan Youth Cup two years ago, and a few of our current squad played for us then. We've a lot of good coaches pulling in the right direction.”
One of Armagh City's key players this season has been top scorer Stephen Murray. Rice is hopeful that Murray will remain at Holm Park.
“Steven is a fantastic talent and he has scored a lot of important goals for us this season. Obviously we want to keep him at the club, but we understand that he might get offers from bigger clubs.
“But we hope that all our players feel an affinity with our club and they recognise that we've developed them in the time they've been at Holm Park.”
With just a month left to play in the Championship Two season, Marty Rice is reluctant to says his side are favourite for promotion, but their fate is very much in their own hands.
“It's going to be really tight, just like last season. You've got the PSNI leading the way but both ourselves and Queen's have games in hand because of our cup runs.
“I think when you look at how well Championship Two teams have done in both the Irish Cup and the Intermediate Cup, you have to say it's a good standard of football. Personally, I don't think it gets the credit it deserves.
“I don't think there is a big pile of difference between the top of Championship Two and the bottom half of Championship One.”
If City can claim promotion this season, they will be no pushovers in Championship One next year.
Name : Armagh City
League : Belfast Telegraph Championship Two
Founded : 1964 as Milford Everton
Nicknames : The Eagles
Ground : Holm Park
Colours : Blue and Black
Gaffer : Marty Rice
Skipper : Liam Cullen
Sharpshooter : Stephen Murray
Belfast Telegraph Digital