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Tributes paid to committed Newington YC servant Rab Martin in build-up to Cliftonville Steel Cup clash

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Newington YC manager Eamonn McCarthy is among many at the club who will dearly miss the "practically irreplaceable" Rab Martin

Newington YC manager Eamonn McCarthy is among many at the club who will dearly miss the "practically irreplaceable" Rab Martin

Newington YC manager Eamonn McCarthy is among many at the club who will dearly miss the "practically irreplaceable" Rab Martin

When Newington take on the Cliftonville Olympic in the Steel & Sons Cup at Seaview this Friday evening, the memory of Rab Martin will be at the forefront of every player's mind.

What was always going to be a fixture to savour has now become a platform to honour the memory of a hard-working man, dedicated to his club.

A senior committee member for the past eight years, Rab has been an integral part of Newington's success story; their three-in-a-row title haul in the Amateur League Premier Division, their famous upset over Glentoran in the Irish Cup fifth round, and their eventual promotion to the Belfast Telegraph Championship.

Like so many 'unsung heroes' of junior and intermediate football clubs up and down the land, Rab was one of the people putting in the hours behind the scenes to make their club what it is, and yet was also the friendly, welcoming face through its doors.

His loss will be keenly felt, not least by Newington's manager Eamonn McCarthy, who on Thursday night paid this tribute: "We have lost a true friend, a gentleman and an inspiration to me and my family.

"Even aside from looking at him as a person, for everything he did for our club, he is practically irreplaceable."

It has only been 16 months since Newington YC kicked a ball in the Amateur League, but with a fourth place finish in their first ever Belfast Telegraph Championship Two campaign, that feels a long way away.

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And if they can overcome the Northern Ireland Football League Reserve League champions in the Steel & Sons Cup, they’ll take another step towards establishing themselves as one of the top sides outside of the Premier Division.

It’s a competition in which, in all of Newington’s impressive years as an outstanding intermediate level club, they have never progressed past the quarter-finals, losing regularly on penalties – just as they did to Immaculata in last season’s fourth round.  

“If the game against Cliftonville Olympic goes to penalties, I think I’ll just have to be resigned to our fate,” McCarthy shrugged.

“In all seriousness though, it will be a tough, tough game, but it was one we have been looking forward to. It will be a special occasion.

“We have built up a good relationship with Cliftonville over the years, and there are a good few links between the clubs.”

It is no wonder Newington have such goodwill towards the Reds. They have supplied a wealth of talented players who have formed an important spine of the club’s journey from amateur football to Championship status.

Sean Adams, Cormac Brannigan, Kevin O’Neill, Conal Burns, Damien Manning and recent capture Kevin Niblock have all featured either for the Cliftonville first team or their reserves.

But for 90 minutes, abiding friendships will be brushed aside by sheer desire to win, and the Steel & Sons Cup is a competition McCarthy really wants to make a mark in this time around.

With Immaculata showing what is possible last season, as an Amateur League Division 1A club who made it all the way to the final, the Newington boss is searching for an answer for why they can’t get past that tricky last-eight stage.

“Traditionally, Newington have always finished the season well, but we haven’t always started the best,” he claimed. “It usually takes us a while to get going.

“There is probably every chance we could meet an Amateur League team later in the Steel & Sons if we get through. We respect amateur teams, but it does feel like a long time ago that we were playing at that level.

“Football evolves, people move on. The Amateur League will do well without us, and we will hopefully do the same.”

In the short term, however, the club’s progress has been thrown into sharp perspective by their recent sad news.

The club are doing everything to keep things ticking along, just as Rab would want, but the effect this news has had on players and staff has been palpable, and McCarthy has asked his team to give it their all in respect of the committee member and his family at this difficult time.

As for Newington’s longer terms prospects, McCarthy remains as ambitious as ever.

“I think, when we look back on our first season in Championship One, you’d have to say we had a poor season,” he confessed.

“Most people would say finishing fourth after coming up from the Amateur League was good, but people at our club, included myself, set our sights higher than that.

“We aren’t here for anything other than to win, and this year, we hope to do even better.”


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