A policy change at Ballyclare Comrades has resulted in the reserve XI being scrapped in its present form.
The club announced that in a bid to ensure a steady flow of talent from the well established youth academy to the senior side, the Reserves will be replaced by the Under 18 XI, and will continue to play in the Ballymena Junior League underyouth coordinator, Stephen Hughes.
Out go Reserves manager Jonty Watson and his assistants Stephen Boyd and Marty Quinn, who have become victims of their own success, after winning consecutive Ballymena Junior League Division 1 league championships, and the Linda Welshman Memorial Cup.
Club chairman Trevor McCann said: ”Jonty did a wonderful job, and he enhanced the reputation of Ballyclare Comrades Football Club with extensive coverage in the Newtownabbey Times and on the web.
“For the first time, our Reserves delivered a league championship, not once but twice, but our manager (Eddie Hill) feels that the main purpose of the 2nd XI is to nurture talent, and supply players for the senior side, with winning matches of secondary importance. He feels that very few of the current Reserves side would be capable of advancing to the senior squad, and most of them have been released.
“We have an excellent youth set-up, and the plan now is to rename the Under 18s as the Reserves, and they will continue our connection with the Ballymena Junior League, under the guidance of Stephen Hughes the current Youth Co-ordinator.
“Hopefully this new set-up will result in young players progressing along the conveyor belt in to the senior squad.
“Jonty Watson’s records speak for themselves. He was the most successful manager the Reserves have ever had, but we now want to concentrate on youth, so on behalf of all connected with Ballyclare Comrades Football Club I thank him for all he accomplished at Dixon Park, and wish him every success in the future,” concluded Trevor.
Manager Eddie Hill concurred with his chairman’s comments, and confirmed that the only reason for dispensing with Jonty’s service is the club’s change in emphasis and direction.
“The Reserves have had great success in the past two seasons, but there has been little in it for the senior side,” he said. “Some of their players have been around Dixon Park too long, and indeed some of them seem to prefer playing for the Reserves instead of progressing to the senior squad.
Coach Watson leaves Dixon Park with ringing endorsements, but he said he is “totally gutted” by the announcement that the team is to be broken up.
Watson candidly admitted that he “didn’t see it coming”.
“I was totally gutted when I was told that my services would no longer be required at Dixon Park,” he stated.
“I didn’t see it coming, there was no hint of it. My relationship with club officials was first class, and I had been looking forward to doing even better next season.”
The double-winning coach added: “However, I have to accept the club’s change of policy, and already I have had several offers for the new season.
“I will take time to consider these before making a decision, but I leave with very happy memories of my two successful seasons at Dixon Park.”
Comrades boss Eddie Hill said: “Jonty now has an excellent CV and I have no doubt that his services will be much sought after, and that he will soon be fixed up with another club, so I wish him and his assistants Stephen Boyd and Marty Quinn all the best as they part company with Ballyclare Comrades.
“Stephen Hughes has been deeply involved with our youth programme, so he will take over as Reserves manager, with former Colts manager, Alan Buchanan, as his assistant.
“They know the club inside-out, and hopefully they will be able to provide players for advancement to the senior team,” added Eddie.
Meanwhile, congratulations are extended to Chris Shimmon and Andrew Doyle, who are in the Northern Ireland Junior International squad for the European tournament in Italy in June.
Squad manager Harry McConkey also has asked Johnny McClurg to be on stand-by.
For your diary.:
Pre-season friendlies: Tuesday 23rd July, Chimney Corner, away; Tuesday 30th July, Ards, home; Saturday 3rd August.Coleraine, away.