OTT continues the series of interviews with the champions from each of the local Intermediate divisions, and this week we head to Ballymoney to chat with Glebe Rangers manager Jason Wilmont.
Glebe Rangers have just completed an action-packed season. The Ballymoney side won the Ballymena & Provincial Intermediate League in the last game of a busy season, overtaking Bangor at the final hurdle. Manager Jason Wilmont has seen it all at the club, but this season will go down as one of the best, and longest, they have seen.
“It has been a very long season, and there have been so many games especially in the last couple of months “, Jason said. “Our game against St. James Swifts was our 48th competitive game of the season so fair play to the lads, they dug in and came through it. That’s an incredible amount of games for an intermediate team to play, it must have been 54/55 games when you take into account the pre-season friendlies. It was certainly a long tough season, and a lot of work went into it from everyone connected to the club.”
Wilmonts men were dealt a punishing schedule, particularly in the second half of the season. All as a result of the success they enjoyed in the various cup competitions. The progressed deep into the Steel & Sons Cup, the Intermediate Cup, as well as making it to the Irish Cup 5th round, where they lost out to holders Linfield at the National Stadium.
“We had a number of long runs in cup competitions, Steel & Sons, Intermediate, Irish Cup, we also got to the final of the O’Gorman Cup and the Crawford Cup within the BPIL. This meant that we were well behind in the league, with Bangor leading from the front. “
“It was a tough situation to manage in the run in,” Jason continued. “I would always prefer to have the points in the bag, to be honest. We dropped points against Newtowne, but we then went on a run of seven wins on the bounce after that before losing to Bangor. We couldn’t afford another slip up by that point and we went and won all six games. They were all tight, tough games in the run in and nobody made it easy for us but thankfully we got over the line.”
We often hear of the Premier League stars who complain about playing two games in a week, but Wilmont would have loved to have the chance for just two games a week at certain points this campaign, with a jam-packed run in for the Riada men.
“There was one spell when we played 15 games in a calendar month, which is crazy really, but that is a testament to the players we have here. There were times when we dipped into the reserve side, calling up a few 16 or 17-year-olds at times in order to help us out and give rests where and when we could. There were a number of weeks where we just didn’t train at all. The matches were coming thick and fast and it was more a case of recovery and preparation. We were looking ahead to games and working out where we could give certain players a rest, there were suspensions kicking in here and there. You will always get that when you get to the end of the season, but we were ready and the boys managed it really well.”
Glebe scored an average of three goals a game in the league, losing just three matches along the way, but Wilmont felt their biggest strength was off the pitch rather than the undoubted talent on it.
“For me the biggest strength we have shown this season was togetherness. These guys are all mates, they train together, they socialise together and for us, that’s a really big thing. There’s no clicks in the dressing room and everyone is pulling in the same direction. They are a great group to manage and be a part of.”
Consistency was the name of the game for Glebe, and as part of an ultra-competitive Intermediate division, that was something Wilmont felt was essential throughout the campaign.
“We won 11 of our last 12 games I think, and we had to dig in deep. Bangor where in front and you had St. James up there as well, two quality sides and it shows how strong the BPIL is right now in my opinion. There is no doubt in my mind that the Intermediate division is as strong, if not stronger than it has been in quite a while. Coagh were the reigning champions, Newtowne are an excellent side, Desertmartin is always a tough place to go to, and then you have the likes of Ballynure, Dunloy etc.”
The BPIL recently accepted three new sides into its Intermediate division. Donegal Celtic have joined up having finished bottom of the Premier Intermediate League this season, while Wakehurst and Ballymoney United were also confirmed as new members for the upcoming season.
“Next season is all set to be even tougher, with the new sides coming in its going to be a longer season straight away, and then there will be a rise in quality as well. It all bodes well for the league though, and should make for an exciting season.”
With the title win came the chance to compete against Mid Ulster Champions Dollingstown in the playoff to take the place of Donegal Celtic, but just a few days after lifting the crown, Glebe confirmed they would not be competing in the playoff and would remain in the BPIL for now.
“In terms of the playoff, the club got together when the dust settled and everyone put their feelings across. It wasn’t a knee-jerk decision, and it was something the club agreed on as a whole. I was consulted, the players were consulted, and ultimately it was a hard decision for the club, but we feel it is the right one for the long-term health of the club.”
“Our boys don’t pay to play, but they aren’t paid either. That said they are well looked after here, they get use of good facilities, if they need physio treatment they get it, so they are well looked after. In the long term we would look at the NIFL structure again and consider the best way forward, but everyone wants to be involved at as high a level as they can.
Wilmont is a Glebe man through and through, having spent many years at the club in many different positions. He is enjoying the role of leading the club forward, and is excited about their future in the BPIL and beyond.
“I have been with the Glebe for many years, I made my debut for the club as a 16-year-old, which was 24 years ago! I had two seasons at Glentoran before suffering a bad injury which kept me out for a long time. I then came back and played a few seasons for Dunaghy and Ballymoney before returning to the Glebe. I was playing for the Old Boys team and after suffering a bad leg fracture I became assistant manager for the first team. That then progressed to manager and the rest is history!
“I was the manager when we got relegated a few years back when the league was restructured, we finished 5th from bottom and went down. Any other year that wouldn’t have been considered a bad season, but we found ourselves out of the league. That’s something we will look to get back into when the time and finances are right. The BPIL is a great league to be a part of though, it is very well run and very competitive and we are delighted to be part of it.”