The more things change, the more they stay the same… and as two recognisable faces take to the sidelines once again for Killyleagh’s Steel & Sons Cup opener against Ards this Saturday, the Amateur Premier Division outfit will be hoping familiarity breeds success.
New Showgrounds manager Hugh Ross and his assistant, club chairman Dee Heron have over two decades of experience in charge of the first team between them, and as they look ahead to this testing cup encounter, both will recall many happy times enjoyed by the club in this tournament.
Still burning brightly in the mind of Heron will be the glowing memory of him leading Killyleagh to their first, and currently only, ever Steel & Sons Cup in 2002, and to the runners-up spot in the following season.
Ross, known amongst family and friends as ‘Barney’ also has his fair share of glory from the blue ribband competition having played in three finals for the Showgrounds side, albeit losing on all three occasions.
Messrs Ross and Heron will have their work cut out to reach those heady heights again this season, especially with a tie against the team considered the strongest in this year’s Steel & Sons Cup, but it will be a good barometer for their new-look line-up, which has undergone major changes over the summer.
Out have gone key players like goalkeeper Allistair Coburn, midfielder Darren McConnell, last year’s leading goal scorer Adam Neil, and influential brothers Niall and Barry Walsh.
In have come promising ‘Big Two’ youth players Jamie Morrow (Glentoran Youth) and Jamie Sharvin, as well as physio Brian Strain’s son Peter, and ex-Downshire striker Matt Shaw, who can all only benefit from playing alongside experienced team-mate Hugh Dickson.
For both relegated Ards and amateurs Killyleagh, it is set to take some time for each to adjust to their respective new surroundings, but this is likely to be more so for Killyleagh, who not only have a very different looking starting 11, but also manager’s bench, following the departure of Stephen Johnston at the end of last season.
The new manager admitted: “It’s going to be a rebuilding process this season, but between Dee and I, we are positive about the future.
“At heart, the two of us are like a couple of youngsters, but there are few with experience to compare with Dee – he is reliable and trustworthy, and there is no-one I would rather have by my side.
“We know we are from the finished article, and are looking to bring more faces in over the next few weeks, but we have a good network of people who know local football well and we will be getting all the help we can.”
But what of their forthcoming opponents?
“Well you could say there isn’t really a good time to play a team that has just come down from the Premier League,” reflected Ross. “But we want to play the top teams, as it will help us improve.
“It has been a tough enough start for us with a double-header of derbies against Comber and Drumaness in the past week, but I am confident we will steady the ship with this new team.”
Meanwhile Ross’s assistant Heron remains in typical jovial form, letting the manager take the lead when it comes to speaking to the press.
But the former gaffer, who famously guided Killyleagh to six consecutive Premier Division titles did suggest with a smile that he and his friend were “too old” to still be involved in football management.
No doubt Ross – a current player with the Northern Ireland Over-50s squad – would have something to say about that one…