OTT continues the series of interviews with the champions from each of the local Intermediate divisions, and this week we head to North Belfast to chat with Crumlin Star boss Paul Trainor.
Crumlin Star are the undisputed current kingpins of the Amateur League. The Ardoyne men have romped to the title this season to make it three NAFL crowns on the spin and seven trophies in total during that time.
Across those three seasons, the Star have lost only two games from 76 league matches and completed this season unbeaten. Three titles, two Border Cups, a Clarence Cup and, most recently, the Intermediate Cup have meant the club have had to extend an already bulging trophy cabinet.
“What can I say on retaining the league”, Paul said. “Three titles in a row, and we went unbeaten in the league all season, just unreal! The Premier Division was so strong this season, the top five or six teams were really strong, we were pushed very hard throughout, but especially the last four or five weeks of the season.”
While goals have not been in short supply, with a forward line comprising of the likes of Ciaran Murphy, James Doyle and former Linfield frontman Miguel Chines all netting over 20 goals apiece, it was a miserly defence which their title win was built on.
“12 goals conceded all year is just fantastic, I was always told defenders win you leagues and I think we have shown that this season. The games were coming thick and fast but we have a big squad here and that helped. Along with that, our seconds finished their own season early, and they won their league and they have a load of good kids, and we were able to dip into that when necessary.”
Another staple of the Star’s season was the late goal. Trainor and his management team (Pauls Berne & Trainor Jr.) have instilled a never say die attitude to the squad. Injury time goals against Rosemount Rec in the Border Cup semi-final, against Ballynahinch Olympic in the Border Cup final, plus the match-winning Paul Prigent goal at the death in the Intermediate Cup Final are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to last-minute game changers.
“To me, this just shows the spirit within our camp. The boys just kept going to the death in every game. They were full of desire to win, and they just don’t know when they’re beat. We just keep going and I think that’s something that has pushed us on.”
Crumlin Star have had something of a nomadic few seasons, playing at The Cliff in Larne for a number of seasons to enable them to compete in Intermediate football. This season they were able to secure a facility closer to home, at the ‘Cricky’ on Cliftonville Road.
“I think it’s extremely important to be playing closer to home. We now have a base we can call home. And along with that we’ve attracted a big local following which has been great for us and, in turn, great for the local community. In the long term, I would love to push this team up the leagues as I believe we are ready for the step up. But we need to be patient and get our home base up to NIFL standard.”
The season ended for Crumlin Star with the Intermediate Cup Final, as they took on holders Queens University at the National Stadium. The winners of this particular trophy have included Limavady United, Carrick Rangers, Bangor & Institute in recent years, so for an Amateur League side to triumph is a special achievement. Trainor’s men also put Annagh United to the sword in an earlier round, meaning the sides considered the top two Intermediate teams in the country were seen off en route to the win.
“The Intermediate Cup really was the cherry on a superb cake. Leading my local team out at Windsor Park, well, that’s what dreams are made of. It was a very special night that will live long in the memory.”
If the Intermediate crown was the cherry, Trainor then once again took charge of the NAFL Representative side in the Britton Rosebowl. Trainor had also taken charge last season, having been called in late to replace Alan Fraser, guiding the side to a 1-0 at Rathfriland. This year, the side triumphed 4-3 on penalties after being tied 1-1 at full-time at Falkirk, with Danny McKee having continued his fine goal scoring season with East Belfast with another strike here.
“I really enjoyed being away with the Amateur league side. I have been honoured to be working with all the best players in NAFL and to retain the Rosebowl in Scotland was fantastic. However the season is over now, but it’s a bit strange to be honest as I find it very hard to switch off. It’s nice to get some family time, but preparations for next season have already well and truly started.”
An ominous warning for his rivals in the Amateur League and above for next season then, as Trainor and Crumlin Star look to extend their collection of silverware.