Top of the league at the end of the first month, undefeated in all four league fixtures, and looking like a real force to be reckoned with. So what’s the secret behind Malachians’ early-season dominance in the Amateur League Premier Division?
Simple…. team spirit. The only question is whether or not the feel-good factor - and the results that follow it - can be maintained throughout the course of an entire season.
Away from the league, Mals and their new manager, Daniel Bell, appear to have hit something of a blip, having been knocked out of the Steel & Sons Cup by Crusaders Reserves last weekend, and following that with a 2-1 exit.
Bell stated: “We have had a good start to the season - the boys have been bouncing about like Zebedee - but the heads did drop a bit after the Crues game.
“We have a great team here, they are a hard working bunch, but the main thing is that we don’t have any fancy Dans here. They play together, win together and lose together as a team.
“We brought in Owen Dowds (Newington YC), Colin Davis (Greencastle), Gary Reilly (Crumlin Star) and Mickey Smith (St Pat’s YM), but we already had a good nucleus of players, with a lot of players that had come in from Crumlin Star II last season.”
Another example of a player who encapsulates the spirit around Mals in the league at the minute at the minute is goalkeeper Niall Largey - a former reserves player who let in a total of eight goals in two games while covering for Micheal Magill last season.
Bell admitted: “His confidence was a bit shot, but when Micheal went to Sport & Leisure in the summer, the door opened for him, and he has been doing a great job as our first team keeper.
“We have only let in two goals in our first four league games, although we have only scored six in that time as well.
“The main thing is that we have been difficult to beat, and we keep going until the end. We got our draw against Immaculata in the last five minutes, and we got our winner against Albert Foundry in the final 15 minutes.
All of this has been achieved without the free scoring of last season’s top-scoring 20-goal wonder Jerome McAtee. The normally prolific attacker has yet to hit the net in the league, and this, combined with the news that captain Michael Hawkins could face up to six months out with a liver injury picked up from a recent knock, could have Bell concerned.
Yet, despite the adversity, they are top of the pile, and are one of three teams yet to taste a Premier Division defeat in the current campaign.
Bell believes another of those so far unbeaten sides, Crumlin Star, have to be the outright favourites for this season, and maintains a realistic stance on his team’s prospects for the year.
He said: “We finished fifth last season, and I do believe we were the fifth best in the league. We were 10 points off fourth and 11 ahead of sixth, so it’s pretty obvious when you are in your own wee pocket like that.
“It would be great if we could break in that top four, and get a cup run going together, but it is going to be tough.”
With the Steel & Sons Cup and Border Cup now firmly off the agenda, that goal is going to be even tougher, but the fact remains that Malachians are still the team to catch in the Premier Division.