Everyone with an interest in football will be familiar with the incredible story of the team who narrowly escaped relegation last season, and against all odds, shocked everyone to be topping the Premier table by mid-April this time around. And no, we aren’t talking about Leicester City.
For Robert Robinson’s Shankill United are the surprising front-runners of an Amateur League Premier Division title race that - thanks to a hectic fixture schedule caused by regularly washed-out pitches throughout this season - has more than a few twists and turns to go before the season ends in a month’s time.
The latest installment saw Ards Rangers come away from Shankill’s Hammer Complex home with all three points on Saturday… but Robinson believes that outcome is unlikely to have any major influence on the eventual destination of the league trophy this year.
He said: “I think it’s Immaculata’s to lose. We have the points on the board, but they have too many games in hand (currently six, with only a solitary point to make up on Shankill). Even if they did slip up, you have the likes of Ards Rangers, Crumlin Star and Downpatrick all with plenty of games in hand.
“At the end of the day, we can’t do any more than try and win our last four games, and sit back and watch. There are only three points available for each match, and they are all going to be playing each other, so we’ll see what way it pans out.”
Robinson isn’t too proud to admit that, while he has always been positive about his young team’s prospects, this season has exceeded his own expectations.
He continued: “We weren’t supposed to be where we are this season. After the way last year worked out, it was always about consolidation. For me, it’s a long-term project. I keep saying it, but we are just a wee club trying to establish itself.
“People keep coming up to me and talking about the pressure at the top. Believe me, that’s not pressure. Pressure was last year, when I came in with the club having six points after 16 games. Going to Killyleagh on a Tuesday night and wondering if we can put a team out because everybody is working. Wondering where the next three points are coming from, and if we can get enough to survive.”
In fact, this year’s team barely resembles the line-up that managed to keep themselves in the Amateur League’s top tier last term.
It was a busy close-season for Robinson, as he brought in a host of fresh talent from a wide spectrum of teams, including Linfield Swifts, Glentoran II, Lower Shankill and Kelvin OB, for this latest stage of the Agnes Street (CHECK!!!) club’s development. But they all share one thing in common.
“They are all enjoying their football,” stated the Shankill boss. “They are local boys and they all enjoy the banter and socialising with each other. That’s really what it is all about - if you aren’t enjoying it, then you might as well go to Tesco’s on a Saturday afternoon."
"This year will be a great year for a lot of these young lads to have got under their belts. Hopefully they believe in what we are trying to do here and stay on-board with the club to help take us forward."