Immaculata keep their cool as they edge ever nearer to Premier glory
Immaculata may be less than a fortnight away from the crowning achievement of their relatively short existence, yet you won’t find anyone at the Grosvenor Road losing their heads at this stage.
With just four league games to play, Immaculata have the comforting knowledge that seven points will secure them their first ever Premier Division title… but they will continue to take things one step at a time, just as they always have done.
Some will argue that winning the Junior Cup - undeniably the most difficult knockout competition to win in amateur football, with the most teams competing from the most areas - three years in a row was as good as it gets.
Others will say that lifting the Junior Shield and Junior Cup double - something only a select handful of teams have achieved - in 2009 was the ultimate highlight.
However, given the incredible journey that they have been on to reach this point, with title victories in almost every season from Division 2C all the way up the seven tiers of the Amateur League en route to the top flight, it is hard to dispute that to land the NAFL’s top prize would top the lot.
In any case, one thing that isn’t in dispute is the spirit in the Mac camp at the minute. This is one very focused group with their sights firmly set on glory. And, most importantly of all, no-one is getting carried away with their current position.
“I never get excited,” claimed Immaculata manager Kevin Lawlor, who has been the main man at the helm for this journey. “I just wait until we have won something before I celebrate it.
“We know we are in a great position, but we also know there is a long way still to go. It’s about never looking too far ahead… our focus is always on the next game.”
It’s a philosophy that has served the league leaders well this season, having lost only once in their 22 Premier Division games to date.
Indeed, the 2-1 defeat at Drumaness Mills in mid-August still smarts with Lawlor, and he insists that his players share a similar mentality, which has driven them all the way to an unbeaten run worthy of any title winners.
Lawlor continued: “It annoys the life out of me if we get beat, but I’m glad to say that has only happened once in the league this year. I can’t remember a league game where we haven’t given it our all this year.
“We definitely learnt our lessons from last season. This time last year, we were chasing everybody, with 13 games to play in around three weeks, all because of getting further in the cups, and it caught up on us.
“Another thing that has changed is that last year, our boys thought they only had to turn up to win some of their matches, but this time, they have worked hard all year. They have beaten all the top teams, and if we win the league, nobody can say we don’t deserve it.
“Now we know we have tough games against Crumlin United, Crumlin Star, Downpatrick and Ards Rangers still to come, but our lead is in our hands. We don’t necessarily have to win those games - but the chasing teams do.”
The Mac would ideally like to have matters wrapped up in advance of May 21st - otherwise that could well be the day the title is decided, in a final day cliffhanger between them and Ards Rangers.
Four days later, they face Downpatrick in the final of the Clarence Cup. Ask Lawlor if he’d settle a league winner’s medal and a Clarence Cup runners-up medal, if they were offered to him, and don’t be surprised by his response.
“I’d tell you to stick it,” said the ambitious Grosvenor Road boss. “If we are good enough to win the league then we are good enough to win the cup, too.”
It’s hard to argue with that. And if Immaculata do manage to end the season with a memorable double this month, there are few who will.
Belfast Telegraph Digital