Name: Ballynahinch Olympic FC

League: Northern Amateur Football League Premier Division

Ground: Kilmore Playing Fields

Colours: Claret and Blue

Manager: Liam Sloan and Barry Reid

Captain: Stephen Noade

In this weeks Intermediate Profile we travel south to Ballynahinch, to profile an Olympic side who have made a big impact in their early days in the top flight of NAFL.

Having been promoted from 1A as champions at the end of the 2017/18 season, Olympic set about proving themselves to be a tough nut to crack. Only runaway champions Crumlin Star conceded fewer goals than the 25 that breached the Olympic goal throughout the campaign.

Premier Division football was a long term goal for the ambitious club, as Vice Chairman Darren McGoran explained to me this week.

“Last season was our first ever season in the Premier Division of the NAFL, something we had aimed for many years. We lost our first game 3-0 away to a good East Belfast side. However, that result did not tell the whole tale, as we believed we matched them for most of the game and we had our chances. Our confidence grew from then on and we had a better season than many had thought possible.”

From then on the side, who play their home games at Kilmore PF, kept on defying the odds with a league campaign that ended with them in 3rd spot, while having just missed out in the Border Cup Final.

“We finished the league just three points off 2nd place, albeit a little further behind runaway winners Crumlin Star. We also had a couple of good cup runs. We lost in the Final of the Border Cup to Crumlin Star on penalties and we reached the semi-final of the Clarence Cup before losing out to Rosemount Rec. All in all, it was a great first season in the ‘big league’.”

With a relatively quiet summer on the transfer front, the focus for Olympic has quickly turned to make sure last season wasn’t a one-off. While they lost one of their top players in marksman Niall Murray to Crumlin Star, the early season form from the likes of Nathan Jones has seen them begin this season as they ended the last.

“You always hear about a lot of comings and goings during preseason”, McGoran continued. “However, we have remained mostly unchanged, with only 1 or 2 coming in/out. You are never sure how other Clubs have signed during the close season, so early in the season, you are never sure what you are going to face. However our first season gave us confidence, and we were confident that we could again compete with the best in the league.

That early season form has left the club neck and neck with Crumlin Star on 15 points, while also progressing in the Border and Steel & Sons Cups. McGoran is quick to stress the club are sticking to the old adage of ‘one game at a time’ though, with the season still in its infancy.

“We have won our first 5 games and are sitting joint top of the league. We gained impressive wins away to both Immaculata and Islandmagee. However, we are under no illusions that the league is competitive and really doesn’t take shape until the 2nd half of the season. We will take each game as it comes and see how far we can push the fancied Crumlin Star and East Belfast. Our results in these games will determine how close we can get to them come the end of the season. Having enjoyed our Cup runs last year we will also strive to see if we can gain any silverware in those. Given a bit of luck in the draw, you can soon find yourself in the hunt. There is a good buzz about the club at the minute, everyone gets on and is working hard so it will be interesting to see what this group can achieve.”

While teamwork is the buzzword for Ballynahinch, as with any side chasing honours there will be a smattering of stand out individuals to keep an eye on as the season progresses. The Olympic will be no different, and Darren picked out a few players he believes are worth watching.

“Nathan Jones is a tricky and pacey winger who can frighten any defender, while Dalton Tate is a solid defender who is good on the ball. Does very little wrong. Meanwhile, in Ryan Noade we have someone who has a strong presence in the middle of the park. He sets the work rate for the whole team and has a great engine.”

The next two weeks see a break from league action for the side, with cup competitions taking precedence. This week they play host to newcomers in Intermediate football, Oliver Plunkett, in the Steel & Sons Cup, while the following week they travel to take on Bloomfield in the Border Regiment Cup. McGoran, though, stresses the long term nature of the plans behind the progressive club.

“Our club has had a remarkable rise through the leagues in the past 10 years, its been a pleasure to witness it and be part of it. The journey isn’t over yet as there are a great core of members who continue to work hard to push the club forward.”