Dunloy, Ballymena

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Promotion Part of Long-Term Plan for St Pat's

The promotion-winning St Patrick's GAC squad of 2018.

St Patrick's GAC manager Niall Ward was philosophical in his assessment of the Lisburn men's season, a season that yielded promotion to the second tier of Antrim football for the first time since the early 1990s.

"This is a very small club and for them to be punching up in Division 2 among some of the bigger names is fantastic for them."

Con Magee's victory over Kickham's Ardoyne last weekend sealed promotion for the Kirkwood Road side, and with St Malachy's conceding Saturday's scheduled game, St Patrick's finished level on points at the top of the Division 3 table with Con Magees.

Some confusion still reigns over who will be confirmed as champions, and Ward admits it has left the season finale something of an anti-climax:

"The league today has us sitting in first so again, when you’re deciding whether we’ve won the league on a Tuesday night after the season is over it’s a bit of a damp squib."

The young manager voiced his frustration at how the regulations were communicated and believes there is a need for further clarification:

"I think it’s very grey," Ward muses, "if their rules are correct and they genuinely believe that Glenravel won the league then they should have been given the trophy last Sunday on the pitch when they beat Ardoyne. That’s the way sport should be run.

The Antrim League regulations have come under much scrutiny in the last week, as both Division 2 and 3 were decided on a knife edge, with two or three teams in contention for the title right until the final round.

The regulation in question is 3.07, detailed below:

3.07 Where there is a need to differentiate between teams on equal points, the following criteria shall be used:

a. Where teams finish with equal points the outcome of the meetings between the teams shall be the deciding factor, except for in a one round league where the deciding factors will be from b to d below .

b. The highest scoring difference. That is points scored minus points conceded in the games played between the teams

c. The highest score for’.

d. Play off Where more than 2 teams are on equal points the issue will be decided as per b above.

The situation is further complicated with a look at the Antrim website, whose table has the Lisburn side sitting at the summit.

The Division 3 league table as of 28/10/18 at 10am.

In a decision that could ultimately come down to the aggregate score over both matches between Con Magees and St Patrick's, Chairman Peter Burns reveals just how those seemingly insignificant moments throughout the season can impact greatly when the numbers are crunched:

"In the head to head between us and Glenravel we’ve won one each. They won down here and we won at their place. You look at that game and we had a 13 yard free that we would have scored and there was a bit of a melee and it ended up a hop ball with 38-39 minutes played (in the second half) and with the last kick of the game they got a point."

Lisburn defeated Ardoyne to reach the JFC decider.

The club also suffered heartbreak this season, losing their second Antrim JFC Final in a row to Con Magees, but both Burns and Ward however are keen to point out that ultimately, promotion is what matters most. A visibly proud Burns is already looking forward to next season.

"Well obviously we’re hoping to consolidate ourselves in Division 2. We hope to do as well as we can and then look forward, introduce younger players into it, hopefully become a Division 2 team and start pushing for honours."

Man of the Match from the JFC Semi-Final win over Ardoyne, Francis McMeel.

To get to this point, the St Patrick's journey as taken many twists and turns and has seen its fair share of difficulty as the club looked to re-establish itself.

"We're actually one of the oldest clubs in Antrim," explains Burns, "Lisburn Red Hands was the original club in 1888. I think it was the second or third club formed in Antrim. The current club then is from 1965 and we've been going ever since."

During the 1990s, a report into the future of Antrim GAA was undertaken, with South Belfast and Lisburn both earmarked as areas where the county should be looking to unlock their potential. Burns feels the club are well on their way to realising that objective.

"The population of Lisburn is growing, we draw on new people all the time, we’ve two new senior players out there that have moved into the area this year again so it’s becoming a bit of a hub."

"We did struggle throughout the Troubles, but Lisburn has changed massively in the last 15-20 years. All the kids can walk down the street in their football jerseys and there’s nothing, you couldn’t have done that twenty years ago in Lisburn as you know but that’s the peace process."

The club secured their current site in the mid-1990s and have been steadily developing ever since, with the ball stops, changing rooms and perimeter fencing all arriving in the last decade to help the club play host to occasions like this year's O'Cahan Cup Semi-Final. Burns recalls with a wistful chuckle some of the early issues they encountered.

"We got that pitch in about 1994-95 and we weren’t allowed to play on a Sunday. Obviously, we lobbied and did different things and got that turned around. We have a good relationship with the local council at the minute and we work in partnership with them in the development of the area which has gone very well."

Action from the JFC Final where St Pat's narrowly lost out to Con Magees. Pic: John McIlwaine.

The collaboration with the local council has proved successful for St Patrick's, and with a more settled feel about the club, they have been able to take advantage and plant the roots of further development with a thriving underage set-up. Promotion to Division 2 is something that Burns feels is crucial to their continued development.

"It’s massive for us as a club. We’ve begun this journey probably with that current team from U8s right through to the age they are, between 20-24,25 years of age. Most of the coaches out there have been involved with them lads right through."

"Ten years ago, we almost folded as a senior team, because obviously we’d no underage set up and we struggled just to bring players to the senior team and as I say, about fifteen years ago, we started at underage level and that’s the fruits of it out there today."

As Burns nods his head to indicate "out there", he smiles.

Out on the pitch, the current squad, with a few former players and club members, are taking part in a light-hearted game of football, with many of the club stalwarts watching on in pride from the sideline.

While the squad retired to the sanctum of the changing room for an end-of-season pep talk from an enthusiastic Ward, Chairman Peter Burns turned chef as him and volunteer Allison handed out much-appreciated toasties to a squad no doubt chilled in the fading light of an October afternoon.

The way in which St Patrick's Lisburn celebrated their promotion on Saturday demonstrated some of the best qualities of the GAA - Sport. Community. Enjoyment.

Although they could be forgiven for reflecting on the championship final defeat and the confusion surrounding the league title, the celebration of the joy of being promoted is very much in keeping with the long-term ambitions held by all at the club.

Beaming manager Niall Ward had the final word:

" The lads will enjoy their few beers tonight and ultimately they’d be playing in Division 2 next season. They’ve a season to enjoy next year and certainly something to aspire to, playing at the bigger clubs and bigger grounds in Antrim. It can only motivate them to stay there."

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