“I would urge as many local football men, neutrals, anyone with a free week, to get down and watch Ballymacash Rangers play. It is truly a club on the up with so much talent on show. We believe it is a breath of fresh air to see a club at this level aiming as high as we are, and putting in work behind the scenes to match. Lots of people talk online but the best thing to do is come along and see it for yourself.”
Name : Ballymacash Rangers
League : Mid Ulster Intermediate A
Ground : The Bluebell, currently using Seaview (Crusaders FC) as a temporary home during renovations at The Bluebell.
Colours : Red/white stripped top, blue shorts, red socks
Player/Manager : Michael Gault. Assistant : Chris Kingsberry
Captain : Kyle Friars
In this, the first Intermediate Profile of 2020, we return to the Mid Ulster League and to Ballymacash Rangers. Now under the stewardship of former Linfield & Crusaders midfielder Michael Gault, the ambitious Lisburn based club have recently saw renovation work begin at their Bluebell home, with their long term aim to gain promotion into the NIFL structure.
The last few seasons have seen Ballymacash floating around the lower reaches of the division, never really in danger of relegation but also out of the reach of the honours board. Last season saw the first shoots of progress, following a particularly disappointing 2017/18 season. This week OTT spoke to the clubs committee who take up the story.
“Last season was a solid one for the 1st Team in regards to expectations. Jason Lowry and Alan Hayward were the management team being assisted by Davy Braniff and Josh Smith. The previous season ended up being quite a disappointing one, with the club having a bad run from November – April. The 18/19 season was then all about progressing and aiming to turn ourselves into a competitive Intermediate A side after not putting up much of a fight in the season before. In 18/19 we bettered the previous season points total, win total, goal difference and became a far harder side to beat. The Reserves also broke the points record achieved in the Mid Ulster Reserve Championship by any previous reserve side at the club. We feel this was an important season for the club getting a solid campaign under our belts and becoming a side teams weren’t guaranteed anything against.”
“The only disappointing aspect of the season was the performances in external cups, such as the Steel and Sons, Irish Cup and Intermediate Cup. Being a MUFL side you always relish the chance to pit yourselves against sides from the NAFL and BPIL or even sides in the Bluefin PIL, but unfortunately we’ve never done ourselves justice in these competitions, exiting at the first stage regularly. At the end of the season, Jason Lowry had to step down for personal reasons meaning the club began a new chapter looking for their next managerial appointment.”
One aspect of continued progress in previous seasons has been the growth of the clubs youth section, now boasting over 190 young footballers in their ranks.
“The clubs youth academy is always growing. The number of kids involved is fantastic and the work put in by the coaches, committee and others is the reason the club can do this. Last season we managed to introduce several teenagers into the 1st Team side giving them important exposure and experience playing at this level.”
When Lowry stepped down the club set about inviting applications for a new head coach, highlighting their ambition and the progress the new man would be expected to oversee. Michael Gault was the man chosen by the club to take the reins, and so far he and his management team have held up their side of the bargain.
“This season is a completely different one to any the club has had before. Michael Gault, an Irish League legend, was appointed manager and he brought Chris Kingsberry, Andy Patterson and Jonny Hanna in alongside Davy Braniff. It was not long until Michael and his team began to bring in players of a high calibre and with plenty of experience. On paper, a lot of people have us as favourites for the Mid Ulster Intermediate A, but everyone knows the talent the league has and how difficult it is to build a title challenge”
“The club began to be spoken about more and more, with the high profile appointment of Gault and his well-known signings starting the season strongly. As noted, a disappointment in previous seasons was our progress in the external cups. This season though we have seen a great improvement. We reached the 4th Round of the Irish Cup, only to narrowly lose out to Bluefin Premier side Banbridge Town. We lost in the Steel and Sons Cup 3rd Round to St James Swifts, who are a very strong side, but we actually got revenge for this defeat by beating them in the Irish Cup 3rd Round by four goals to nil.”
“In the Mid Ulster cups, we are doing well, and have booked ourselves into the final of the Premier Cup, which will take place in March time we believe. We are also doing well in the Marshall Cup and have our 4th Round tie in that in a few weeks time. The most important thing of all though, the bread and butter, is the league. We had an unfortunate couple of weeks, losing away to Crewe United and Banbridge Rangers. We have however won every other league game and sit 4th with 8 wins and 2 defeats. We have a few games in hand over every side above us, so at the moment it is in our own hands as to whether or not we can find ourselves mixing it at the very top.”
Some of the signings Gault has brought in have certainly caught the eye across the country. Established top-flight stars such as David Armstrong, Conor Hagan and Tim Mouncey joined the ranks. But it was the addition of Rory Patterson which really captured the imagination. The 35-year-old Strabane native has been prolific wherever he has played in a well-travelled career. Patterson spent seven years in England, chiefly in a hugely successful spell at FC United of Manchester before joining Coleraine in 2009, winning the Ulster Footballer of the Year at the end of that season. He returned across the water to join Plymouth Argyle and had a loan spell with Linfield where he played alongside Gault. Patterson’s career also included two spells at Derry City and last season he scored 10 goals in 29 appearances for Crusaders. So far this season Patterson has netted 10 goals in 10 appearances, while his contribution off the field can’t be underestimated either.
“The likes of Armstrong, Hagan, Matty Parker, and Aaron McKee have all played at the top level and need no introduction. We also have some fantastic young talent in the 1st Team, such as Thomas McComb, Josh McKee and Phil Reid. Everyone always talks about the ex-Irish league group but we have some incredibly talented local lads, Stuart Clarke has been a lot of supporters player of the season so far. Kenny Campbell and Diogo Inacio are key players and have their fair share of goals this season. It’s really important not to underestimate the strength of Gault’s squad this season. With that being said, we must mention the incredible September signing of striker Patterson. This shows once again the pulling power that Michael Gault has. Patterson has scored 6 in his last three games and is really beginning to show his quality. This signing not only increased the quality we have on the field but has also helped grow the profile of the club massively off it.”
The club have made it clear that their long term aim is to be competing at as high a level as they possibly can, with the renovations at the Bluebell a key part of that. Two years ago the club joined forces with the local community to push forward the plans for the redevelopment of the Bluebell to provide suitable facilities for the club and by extension the young people in the area. The initiative was named Ballymacash Sports Academy, and having promoted a community share offer which raised over £112,000, they were then in a position to apply for various grant aid to provide a cocktail of funding for the installation of the full-size 3G Pitch at the Bluebell Stadium. First and foremost the club remains at its core a community club, providing sporting opportunities for the local area throughout over 30 years of their history.
“We are currently undergoing a massive renovation to our home facilities at The Bluebell, turning it into a sports hub for the community with a fantastic pitch being laid down as we speak. Long term plans are to eventually gain promotion into the Irish League pyramid. The Bluefin PIL is one level above, but there are different circumstances required to go up, so even winning the MUFL would potentially still require a playoff with another league winner. We have been fortunate to be allowed to use Crusaders home at Seaview in the meantime.”