This week we continue our series covering the four Intermediate Champions by journeying to Mid Ulster, with Steven Hyndes’ Hanover side. Hyndes has been with the club for nine seasons now, with the Intermediate title the crowning glory of many seasons of steady progression. Hyndes is of course well known in local football circles, having turned out for Armagh City, Glenavon, Crusaders & Loughgall before returning ‘home’ to his local club, Hanover.

“This is my local team”, Steven said, “so when I was growing up I would have watched them in the park and I have a lot of friends who have always played or been associated with the club. Two of them, Andrew Osborne the current treasurer, and Gavin Scott who has now sadly passed away were always on at me to give them a year here before I finished up. I promised them I would so at 35 when I quit the higher level, I had the intentions to play one year here to keep my promise but I loved it that much I’ve been here ever since.”

It ended up being a three year playing spell for Hyndes, which under the watchful eye of Hanover boss Bill Richardson culminated in promotion from Intermediate B on a very special anniversary for the club.

“I came to Hanover at 35 and ended up playing until I was 38. The previous manager Bill Richardson, who I have to say I owe a lot to, asked me to come on board then to help him, and that gave me a great grounding in management. He allowed me to take a lot of the team talks and have a hands-on approach to the technical side of the matchday routine. At the end of the season, he got us promoted to Intermediate A on the clubs 50th anniversary which was quite fitting.  He then stepped aside and asked Dean Crowe and me to take it on. We have been here ever since and next year will be the start of my fifth season, with the club having won four trophies in the past two seasons.”

The 2017/2018 season was certainly one to remember for Hyndes’ men, as they became only the second side from Mid Ulster to lift the prestigious Bob Radcliffe cup; Tandragee Rovers being the first to do so back in 2001. They then made it a cup double when the Premier Cup also took residence in the trophy cabinet later that season, giving his squad a real appetite for further silverware.

“I always felt the first trophy was going to be the hardest for us to clinch, and then when Bob Radcliffe came along, that is such a prestigious trophy at this level. With us being only the second Mid-Ulster league side to win it the guys really grew on confidence, for me that was when this team really found the final piece in their make up to push on and get that hunger of wanting to keep winning things, which for me is a vital part of being a footballer.”

Injury Hit Start

Moving on to this season, and with challenges coming from Crewe United, Banbridge Rangers, Windmill Star, in particular, Hanover picked up 17 points from their opening seven matches. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, with the early stages of the campaign marred by injuries.

“We have been working with a small squad of around 18,” Steven said. “We then lost two of those due to work reasons and then we had up to four key players out injured over the course of the first couple of months. However, we knew our main goal was to just stay in things and get through matches until we got bodies back fit again. Thankfully that was the case; especially in league matches where, although we weren’t playing the standard of football we are capable of, we found a way to keep putting the points on the board.”

In a division where the standard has steadily risen over the years, Hanover have followed that trajectory and capped it off with this season’s title, no mean feat given the talent at the disposal of their rivals across the league.

“The league has been growing steadily over the past number of years, I feel last year it was the strongest to date and this year with even more quality players already signed by clubs and also new managers like Michael Gault coming into the league it will be stronger again. For years this league was overlooked but now I really feel it is finally getting the recognition it deserves.”

One of the standout players for Hanover, and indeed the Mid-Ulster league in general, was striker Justin Bradley. The prolific striker is in his fifth season with the club, and he has had no issues hitting the net during that time.

“The kid has been truly remarkable since we signed him five years ago. I went to watch him with our previous manager Bill Richardson in a summer tournament, I stayed for about 20 mins and to be honest he touched the ball about five times and never done much. I remember saying to Bill, let’s go I’ve seen enough! It was just his movements and runs off the ball, and I knew with the players we had he would score a bucket full at this level. He signed that season and has never looked back. We know how lucky we are to have him, as I have no doubt he could play Irish league. Unfortunately, due to his work commitments, he wouldn’t be able to commit, but we are certainly reaping the rewards; in five seasons he has scored 163 goals in 175 matches, unreal to say the least!”

Rock Solid

While goals haven’t been an issue, Hyndes’ side also had the joint tightest defence in the league. The old mantra goes that strikers win you games, but defences win you titles and that has been something that the club have worked hard on.

“When I first came in to help Bill five years ago we were conceding around two and a half goals per game, even though we were still winning games thanks to our attacking record. But we knew if we were to be really successful we needed to get that goals against ratio down. That pre-season we worked on defending and clean sheets, and we went on to get promoted from Intermediate B. We only missed out on the title by goal difference to a very good Valley Rangers side, but more importantly, we took our goals conceded down to around 1.2 per game. Last year that was our main point in pre-season. We know we can score goals but we were very pleased to come away with the joint least goals conceded.”

To win a title at any level requires just the right amount of talent, hard work, and togetherness, and Hyndes felt it was that third element that his charges excelled in this season.

“This season we simply had a very strong and tight group who went into the trenches together. There was more than one occasion when were getting beat, but we just refused to be beaten. We learned how to win matches in the last ten minutes which involved everyone sticking together. Everyone sticking to their job in the game plan and being disciplined right to the end. Because the squad ended up around 15 players for most of the season, due to a long term injury picked up by the experienced Neil Cochrane who done his ligaments in November, I felt every player showed their true value to the team. The reason why we achieved what we did was because we were together. Our end of season awards had a few different winners spread out which shows how hard it was to separate them.”

Hyndes is quick to stress the importance of the support team around him in the dugout, with his backroom staff key to the end product witnessed on the Brownstown pitch on a Saturday.

“When I took the job the coaching was the first thing I set about aborting out. Dean Crowe was already on board and he is someone I rely on so much. Our wives often say we are like a married couple but I believe you need to have a close relationship on this side of things.”

“We then brought Glenn McCullough in who is from the well known McCullough footballing family from Portadown, and then last season we felt we needed one more on board so we brought in Stephen Woods who had played for the club all of his career. Not only does it divide the work between us but it keeps things fresh from a coaching point of view.”

“First and foremost these three guys are very good friends who I can trust wholeheartedly, and they are also very knowledgeable footballing men and we aren’t afraid to have a go at each other if need be. Although I have the title of manager, I have always said there is no egos between us; we all want what is best for the players in their development and ultimately for the club to be successful.”

Long Term Gain

In the current Intermediate structure, all competing clubs can put their name forward for promotion to the Premier Intermediate League, the third tier of the NIFL set up. In Mid- Ulster this season, Crewe United & Moneyslane had applied for that right to a playoff, while Hanover did not. As they have shown over the last number of seasons though, they are the masters of long term, sustainable planning, and that is the strategy they will continue to employ.

“From the clubs point of view, promotion is the goal, but you have to walk before you can run. I’m a big believer in getting the structures in place first before anything else. We have seen it so many times before; clubs with budgets throwing money away foolishly and for short term gain and then they can’t understand why they are yo-yoing between leagues. Here we are taking things slowly, we have acquired the lease of our home ground which is a massive step and have started to look at bringing the ground up to standard. Until then though, we will concentrate on being consistently successful and keep putting the right structures in place; for example our youth set up which is thriving, with over 70 kids on the books in under three years since it was started.”

As a long time Irish League player, Hyndes remains hugely competitive and ambitious, and sees no reason why his local club cannot push for more honours at Mid-Ulster level and beyond if they stick to their approach.

“I have always been ambitious, and in many ways, I miss the level of the Irish league. But I have always believed if you work hard enough and earn your stripes you will get your just rewards. You don’t have to know someone that will put a word in for you just to further your career. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing at present and no matter what the future holds my main priority is; if there is a time that comes for me to move on, I want to ensure that whoever comes in will have that structure in place to carry on the work we have started.”

For many players, this time of year is a chance to ‘switch off’ and enjoy a short break, but for managers, the work behind the scenes doesn’t let up.

“As a player when the end of April comes generally you can switch off, go and enjoy the summer. As a manager, however, this is my busiest time of the year. I like to have things in place early on so that we are as professional as we can be. We have had our pre-season schedule in place from the start of May, all friendlies in place, all venues sorted. Last week we got all our training session plans sorted, for me, this is essential as when we try to get a few new players on board it’s important they know how professional our set up is here. The goal for me is to try to put everything in place that I would have wanted to hear from a manager when I was a player.”