Soccer

Barney McKeown admits expectations are higher for Newry

Barney McKeown (right) has joined Newry from Portadown
Barney McKeown (right) has joined Newry from Portadown Barney McKeown (right) has joined Newry from Portadown

Sports Direct Premiership

Newry City v Loughgall (Saturday, 3pm)

SATURDAY marks the beginning of a new era at Newry City, as it will be first time in 10 years that they have somebody other than Darren Mullen stood on the sideline.

Mullen’s assistant Gary Boyle has been offered the chance to step up into the hot seat, and has wasted no time in putting his own imprint on the team, with 10 new signings.

Adam Salley, who netted 27 times for Ards in the Championship last season is one of three new strikers, ex-Cliftonville man Liam Bagnall will bring experience and steel to the midfield, and Ciaran O’Connor has re-joined on a permanent basis, after his loan spell from Glentoran was cut short last season.

Another signing of note is the return of local lad Barney McKeown, who will give Newry a quality option at both right back and centre back and having missed out on a lot of football in his first spell at the club, McKeown can’t wait to get started this campaign.

“I was excited when I first spoke to Gary,” he said. 

“I felt as though there was unfinished business, as I had only played 10 or 11 games before I got injured, and Covid hit, so I missed out on a lot of football for Newry. 

“But I felt that now was the right time to come back and get on board. I think that it’s an exciting time for the club. They had a good season last year and they’ll be looking to build on that.”

Last season went as well as Newry fans could have hoped. They finished 10th in the table – having never been in the bottom two places at any point all season – and won the Mid Ulster Cup.

This season, however, there will be higher expectations from the Showgrounds faithful and McKeown is hoping that he and the other new signings can help the club to make the next step of establishing themselves as a Premiership team.

“Yeah, I would say that there are more expectations,” he said.

“There is a lot of competition for places; we have a lot of quality footballers. If you have a bad game, you might not be out there the next week. 

But it’s healthy competition, because the togetherness in the group is good. 

“We have made some good signings and have looked sharp in pre season. 

“The hard yards are done now; we have done all the running and now we’re just looking to get out there and perform in front of the fans.

“We have to perform and be at our best both as individuals and as a team. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch, but it’s time to get going.”

It is indeed time to get going and Newry’s campaign begins with an intriguing clash against newly promoted Loughgall this afternoon.

Having home advantage, the word ‘expectation’ will once again follow Newry, and McKeown is hopeful that they can get the win and build the platform for the rest of the season.

“You don’t want to be chasing your first win,” said the former Everton Academy player. 

“You want to get the points on the board early, and it’s good that we’re at home, but Loughgall are going to be a physical side, they’re going to have plenty of energy, and they’re going to be direct at times too.

“So, it’s going to be a tough test, but it’s going to show us exactly where we are. If we can get a win then that will give us a good platform to build on.