BALLYCLARE COMRADES: Hughes delighted to end season on a high

Ballyclare Comrades manager, Stephen Hughes. INLT 12-005-PSB
Ballyclare Comrades manager, Stephen Hughes. INLT 12-005-PSB

Ballyclare Comrades’ topsy-turvy season had a happy ending, with Stephen Hughes’ side just being pipped for a top half Championship 1 finish.

Mid season the Reds seemed to be heading for relegation, but only two defeats in the final thirteen fixtures hoisted them up the table, and also secured a place in the semi-final of the IFA Intermediate Cup.

“The outlook was bleak when Armagh thrashed us 4-0 at the end of February,” stated Hughes, “but since then we have gone unbeaten in eight league fixtures, with our only defeat the Intermediate Cup semi-final loss to Institute, and even then we played the last half hour with only nine men.

“March was a marvellous month for us, but the four points amassed against Larne, who were high-flying at the time, really galvanised our recovery.

“I have said it before, but I have no hesitation in repeating that I owe so much to my backroom staff, who have been brilliant on the training grounds. They have inspired the players, with the good practice there carried forward to match days.

“This was evident on Saturday against Institute. From the kick-off we got the ball on to the ground and took the game to them. I believe in playing attacking football, and we had Institute on the back foot throughout a one-sided first half, and should have been more than one up at the break.

“Thankfully we got the cushion of an early goal in the second half, before we had to withstand some pressure in the final quarter.

“By that stage word had reached the Institute dugout that Larne were leading 5-0, and were threatening to take the play-off position that had earlier seemed safe for them. That heralded a period of late pressure, but Paddy Flood was equal to whatever came his way, and we were worthy winners, “ he ended.

Hughes confirmed he is likely to start pre-season with basically the same squad of players, but he has ear-marked a few players he would be keen to have at Dixon Park.