In this series of interviews, OTT will be chatting with the gaffers who have led their clubs to their respective Intermediate titles, and we begin the series with the first club to get their hands on the silverware; Magherafelt Sky Blues.

Magherafelt Sky Blues have just completed a historic season for the club, winning the NI Intermediate League for the first time ever. The Spires Park side took the league by storm this season, showing great consistency across the league season, losing just once while scoring 40 goals across their 16 games.

Things could have been very different for the club though; having played in the Ballymena League for a number of years they found themselves struggling for a team at the end of last season. The issues were continuing into the pre-season period, with the club having to cancel a series of friendlies; however they made the decision to leave the BPIL and return to the NI Intermediate league, a league they knew well having played in it for many years previously.

Manager Brian Taylor was brought on board as manager along with coach Sean Monaghan, and along with a dedicated committee they pulled together and were able to assemble a squad of talented local players who helped the club to their historic achievement.

Brian Taylor takes up the story. “It was some season for the club, more ups than downs, and we haven’t said that around the Sky Blues in many a year.  At the start of last season, the right people were put in place at committee level to handle the trials the club was facing. The players bought into what the management wanted to do and believed us when we told them how good they are. To be fair to them we knew from early on in the league that we wouldn’t be far away from the top come April.”

And so it would prove, with the title secured on a bright sunny day in mid-April with a thumping 7-1 win over Trojans that made their lead over rivals Strabane Athletic unassailable. As recently as February though, the Sky Blues were being chased down by Maiden City as well, and the Derry men had five games in hand on Taylor’s side. In the end, though the Sky Blues were able to hold on to top spot as they watched from afar, with Maiden City dropping points during their congested run in.

“Points on board are always better than games in hand,” Taylor continued. “Leading is also better than chasing in my opinion, especially when you have the quality and commitment we had from the lads.”

It proved to be a more than productive first season back in the Intermediate League for the club, having returned from the BPIL last summer. For club man Taylor he was delighted to see the Sky Blues return to the North West based league.

“I always felt that any good things that ever happened to us occurred when we were in the NI intermediate league and we can’t thank the league enough for welcoming us back. There are some classy footballers right through the league, and every game was tough. Personally I couldn’t compare the quality of the league with the BPIL, as I’ve only ever managed within the NI Intermediate league. It does seem to us though that there is more camaraderie within the NIIL. We were lucky in that we didn’t lose too many games this season, but whether we won or lost we always had a drink and a chat with the opposition staff.”

MSB are renowned throughout local football circles for their fantastic youth system, and Taylor has been involved heavily within that for the last number of years, running the 2007 age group to great success.

“Our youth policy is a credit to our youth coaches. Right throughout the club we try to play football the right way, from the seniors right down to our mini soccer. I had managed our reserves for a spell around ten years ago, and then started up the 2007 side in 2013/14. However, I personally had to take a step back from the underage coaching side of things at Christmas past to concentrate on taking the seniors to the title.”

Spires Park is the clubs home ground, and recognised as one of the best at Intermediate level. Work is continuing on the clubs infrastructure, as they begin to deploy big plans off the pitch also. They have recently announced the start of redevelopment plans at Spires Park, beginning with new clubrooms, kitchen, offices, toilet block plus a catch net behind the goals.

“Spires Park is a special place for us all at MSB,” said Taylor. “The more work we do at it, the more we want done. Running a club takes a lot of good people at all levels, and I think we have got them now. I am also groundsman at Spires Park, a role I took up upon my recovery from cancer two years ago.”

Taylor and his team are now enjoying a short break, but plans have started already for the new season. However Taylor was quick to acknowledge the fine contribution from those around him for a fantastic season for everyone in Sky Blue.

“I’d like to thank my coach, Sean Monaghan, for his input this season, well done lad, champions! I’d also like to thank our Reserve managers Gary Rafferty and Rob Niblock jnr for their help and support, a job well done guys.”

“A special mention also to our Chairman Brian Surgenor, Club Secretary Ciaran Hurl and our treasurers Rachel McCann and Paul Gribbon and all our committee members, the work they put in is fantastic. Big thanks to club founder members and Club Presidents Sean Kelly and Willis Quinn, and most of all to my Fiancée Mary Doris and my lad Ashton. Thanks for your support guys; it was worth it in the end!”