Newry.ie

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Newry City AFC manager Darren Mullen can’t wait to get back to the training pitch this Tuesday, 13 April.

Like so many other sports teams throughout the district it will be the first time they will train as a collective this year as government restrictions eases.

Darren Mullen, Manager, Newry City AFC. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Darren Mullen, Manager, Newry City can't wait to get back to training this coming week. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Mullen’s target for Newry City is promotion back to the Premiership, in the meantime he is still hoping that championship clubs will be granted elite status and the Ballyholland man can foresee an all-Ireland football league as well as summer football.

Having signed a to-year deal in February he has been busy securing the services of players, with many re-signing and the recent signing of former Warrenpoint Town star Philip Donnelly, just shows Mullen’s intentions. But first he has to get back to the Showgrounds.

“We are back on Tuesday night for our first training session, so I will be just glad to get back onto the pitch,” Mullen said.

“We have kept in touch through social messaging and zoom classes, but you can’t be sitting on your hands in terms of next season so that work is always on-going, so I have been having discussions with coaches and the players throughout the pandemic, so I think everybody will be delighted just to kick a ball on Tuesday night.

Darren Mullen, Manager, Newry City AFC. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Darren Mullen. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

“We had Engine [player Darren King] and Stevie Lawless doing zoom classes and they have been terrific, we have even done yoga and quizzes and that type of thing to vary it a bit, but it is hard to beat kicking a ball about the pitch and having a bit of banter out on the training pitch again. That is something that we have all missed, so we are looking forward to it.

“It is a year lost for those fellas in not only fitness but general well-being and meeting up with everyone and to get some sort of normality. It has affected everybody in a lot of ways in all walks of life, but in footballing terms it is a year lost for us.”

There has been nothing to suggest that next season won’t start around the normal time of August and Mullen is planning ahead but he doesn’t want the elite status to become an issue again.

“There is still our fight for elite status, we still haven’t been given it,” said Mullen.

“The last thing we want is a similar thing to happen again because we are not deemed Elite. We have asked NIFL [Northern Ireland Football League] for another meeting and we will wait and see what happens from that.”

“When you look outside of football, people are getting vaccinated and with the over 40s being able to book vaccines now, so you would like to think by the time we come around to the start of the league in the summer that the vast majority of people will have had their jab and we can get back to some sort of normality.

“We have been very careful when it comes to sanitising players coming in and the equipment and players getting their temperatures checked, so we would like to think that we would be set-up for the new season.

Cutting the grass at the Newry City AFC grounds. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Cutting the grass at the Newry City AFC grounds. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Mullen backs the idea of playing Irish League football during the summer, especially if other variants of the Covid virus become prevalent in the winter, but says it has to done in the right manner and certainly warrants further discussion. And he sees an all-Ireland league as a possibility in the future, but he wants the so-called smaller clubs to be looked after.

“There is certainly an argument for it, and I know Kieran Lucid had put forward proposals before,” Mullen said.

“When you look at other leagues in different countries like some of the Scandinavian leagues, they are full time and are making a lot of money out of it and in some point in time that has to happen, but it has to be done in a manner so that other teams are not cut off or left stranded.

“It can’t be an elite environment that will have a detrimental effect on other teams, possibly like ourselves. You like to see elite teams in any country but not so there is a massive gap between top and bottom.”

Darren also took on the management role of Ballyholland camogs last year, they won the Down intermediate championship in his first season in charge, and he is looking forward to another season with the women.

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