Newry City AFC are dreaming big ahead of Irish Cup tie with H&W Welders
Irish Cup fifth round: Newry AFC v H&W Welders (today, Newry Showgrounds, 3pm)
DARREN Mullen must have felt like he was standing at the foot of Mount Everest when he floated the idea of resurrecting Newry City Football Club.
Around the town, Mullen and his friends were probably seen as day-dreamers.
He recalls having to move their first committee meeting to another part of the social club at the Newry Showgrounds because of a leaking roof.
When the club shut its doors in 2012, a leaking roof was probably the least of its worries.
Spool forward to the present and Newry City AFC will be debating an Irish Cup fifth round tie with H&W Welders at the Showgrounds this afternoon.
With old club debts cleared, a new constitution drawn up and new Trustees in place, the bedrock of Newry City’s successful return to competitive football has been the volunteer spirit harnessed and nourished in cold, dank committee rooms, far away from the glare of the Irish Cup.
Five years ago, the newly constituted Newry City AFC found a new home in the Mid-Ulster Football League and since then they have climbed the intermediate ranks and are now just one league off senior football.
“We’ve never stopped and thought: ‘We’ve done a great job here’ because there is that much going on,” says manager Darren Mullen.
“It’s only when you finish managing you’ll appreciate what we’ve done. Our goal is to play Premiership football – to get that back to the Showgrounds. We’re one step closer to that.
“People said to us: ‘It’ll take you 10 years to get anywhere near Premiership football again’. At the time that was realistic enough because of the mess that was left but to be sitting one [league] off after five years and sitting fourth [in the Championship] it’s not a far-off dream any more.
“Now, we’re still miles off where we want to be off the pitch, in terms of finances but we’re making progress.”
Mullen, a Newry native, played youth and reserve team football for the club and held several different coaching roles at the Showgrounds.
Before it all went “pear-shaped”, Mullen was in line to be announced as the club’s next first team manager back in 2012.
“The fact that I was considered good enough to manage the first team was a massive honour for me as a Newry man,” says Mullen.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to kick a ball at first team level. It was always something that I regretted not achieving.”
Mullen remembers “gathering up a team” and preparing the side for their first competitive return in the Mid-Ulster ranks, a 3-0 win over Bourneview YM.
“I remember our first game and our supporters’ bus arriving and putting the flags up around a Mid-Ulster ground. It was great to see that. That was a big step. From then on, it’s been great.
“Probably from the outside looking in it has looked easy but it was far from it.”
Mullen, a first-among-equals manager, has been ably assisted by the likes of Raymie Burns, Mickey Keenan, Jervis McCaul and Gary Boyle in breathing new life into Newry City.
They have won three promotions in four years. Their players are all local lads and they don’t get paid.
“The players deserve a lot of credit,” says Mullen.
“The team has obviously changed over the years but they’re still all local players. They all pay £5 subs per week, and that’s a credit to them.
“I don’t think there are too many other clubs where that would happen at. There is a great atmosphere about the club and the committee our all volunteers, all local people.
“That unity is hard to beat.
“The fact that they’re playing for their hometown club at the Showgrounds and playing in front of their friends and family is the biggest motivation.”
Playing H&W Welders in the Irish Cup fifth round today – the first time they’ve qualified for the latter stages since reforming – is “another sign of progress”.
“Now we’re making headlines for the right reasons. It’s been difficult at times on and off the pitch but it’s been certainly worth it.”
Muhammad Ali once said: “The man with no imagination has no wings.”
After five years of hard graft, Newry City AFC continue to soar…
Irish Cup fifth round stats (3pm unless stated)
Knockbreda v Institute (1.30pm)
PADDY McLaughlin’s high-flying ‘Stute side have already beaten Championship rivals Knockbreda at home this season.
Lurgan Celtic v Glentoran (1.30pm)
LURGAN Celtic, who have home advantage, are at the wrong end of the Championship table and have been on the receiving end of some heavy defeats in recent times.
Queen’s University v Dundela (1.30pm)
BOTH these sides would probably prefer three league points than an Irish Cup win as they battle it out at the top of the Premier Intermediate Division.
Ards v Crumlin Star
FRESH from their Border Cup win, Paul Trainor’s Crumlin Star side have the confidence and skill to keep Ards on their toes for long periods.
Ballinamallard United v Immaculata
A FEW years ago, the ‘Mac would really have fancied this clash but they are not the force of old. The ’Mallards have been on a recruitment drive which should see them into the last 16 today.
Ballymena United v Moyola Park
MOYOLA are holding their own in the Premier Intermediate but this is a major step up.
Prediction: Ballymena United
Carrick Rangers v Glenavon
THE Lurgan Blues look back to somewhere near their best and their love affair with the Irish Cup should see them edge out Davy McAlinden’s Carrick side.
Cliftonville v Warrenpoint Town
THE Reds are showing signs of improvement. The ‘Point, who have off-loaded striker Stephen Murray to Glenavon, face an uphill task here.
Coleraine v Lisburn Distillery
LISBURN Distillery are sitting in third spot in the Premier Intermediate but they’re unlikely to topple the in-form Bannsiders.
Crusaders v Maiden City
THE Northern Ireland Intermediate side have done remarkably well to reach the fifth round but their journey ends at Seaview today.
Dungannon Swifts v Limavady United
LIMAVADY have struggled in the Championship this season and face a tough assignment here.
Prediction: Dungannon Siwfts
Larne v Dergview
LARNE’S influx of new players should be see them overcome strugglers Dergview.
Linfield v Glebe Rangers
A GREAT draw for minnows Glebe Rangers who will be hoping to keep the score below five goals
Loughgall v PSNI
HOME advantage should swing this tie between two middling Championship clubs.
Newry City v H&W Welders
BOTH league encounters finished all square but with home advantage Newry could edge into the last 16.
Portadown v Ballyclare Comrades
BALLYCLARE are higher up the Championship table but the Ports are still fancied to win a tight tussle.