Belfast Telegraph

Dollingstown manager Gary Duke hopes fine form continues after 5-2 win over Crewe United in the Irish Cup

By Martin Mawhinney

Dollingstown continued their rampant start to the season on Saturday with a 5-2 win over fellow Mid Ulster Intermediate A club Crewe United in the Irish Cup, with victorious manager Gary Duke warning the best is yet to come.

That thought alone will send shockwaves throughout the whole of junior football in Northern Ireland, and especially so in their own division, where they have soared to the top with full points – and more remarkably – 25 goals in their first four games.

It’s currently all appearing too easy for the Intermediate A champions, who missed out on a place in this year’s Belfast Telegraph Championship after a narrow defeat in their end-of-season play-off.

Yet Duke has stressed that appearances can be deceptive, and that they aren’t having quite everything their own way.

He said: “I wouldn’t say it has been easy for us. We were getting beaten 2-1 at half time, and playing poorly.

“Thankfully, though, we picked it up 20% in the second half. I still think we can add another 30% to that, too.”

Colin Cunningham gave Dollingstown an early lead before they conceded twice in the first half, but looked a different force in the second, as Cunningham completed a hat-trick, while there were also goals from Dale Malone and Richie Thompson.

The worrying thing for Dollingstown’s rivals is that they are still far from full-strength, with key players Ashley Gregg and Adam Montgomery currently out injured, and the recuperating Thompson coming off the bench in the last 20 minutes.

However, there is a sense that the club are in a strong position with genuine strength in depth after some shrewd recruitment over the summer.

Duke continued: “We pretty much have two players for every position now. We brought in two great signings from Loughgall there a few weeks ago, and they have just given us that extra bit of quality – Neil King at the back, and Dale Malone has got us four goals in three games up front.

“I think the whole side is a lot more focused than last year. The experience with Newington has given them that belief that they are a good team, and that they can mix it with the best.”

You would have to think that Dollingstown have the capability to be one of the clubs outside of the Irish League to be able to mount a headline-grabbing run in this season’s Irish Cup.

Yet Duke isn’t the type of manager to have his head turned by the buzz that comes with Northern Ireland’s flagship knockout tournament, and will keep his players’ concentration on reaching their chief goal of Championship promotion.

However, he does have his fingers crossed for an away trip in the next round.

The Dollingstown boss added: “I see the Irish Cup as a team bonding thing; if you can get away to the likes of Bangor or Belfast for a day out, it makes a nice change from what you’re used to.

“I would like an Amateur League team in the next round, but I’m not going to get too concerned about it. Let’s face it – the Irish Cup isn’t a competition we are going to win.”

That is a reality facing all the clubs who were in first round action over the weekend, but it won’t stop them dreaming of a morale-boosting run nonetheless.

Crumlin United were the round’s top scorers, thumping eight past Draperstown Celtic, who could only offer one in reply.

It was generally a good day for Amateur League teams, with Killyleagh YC beating Ballymacash Rangers 1-0, Islandmagee triumphing 3-2 over St Mary’s and Derriaghy CC celebrating a 6-2 win over Lower Maze.

However, not all NAFL teams playing Mid Ulster opposition enjoyed such success, with Banbridge Rangers romping to a 7-0 victory over Dromore Amateurs, and Newry City AFC edging out 1-0 winners over Dunmurry Rec.

For the full weekend’s results, turn to our results section.

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