CIARAN Kelly, otherwise known as ‘CK’, just cannot wait for the season to start, as the new joint player-manager of amateur league side, Wellington Rec.
He will be on hand to help Kenny Thompson, who took over at Brookvale Park midway through last season. And Kelly has already been working tirelessly to bring some much-needed strength in depth to the Rec squad.
Thompson said: “When I took over, the team really surpassed themselves, but towards the end of the season, it was blatantly obvious that we needed more experience in there. We brought Ciaran in partly because we knew he had the contacts and would work hard to bring players in – players of a standard and experience that we need. And it has worked, he has brought quality players to this club.
“We moved early in the summer and brought him in the day after we lost to Derriaghy in the last game of the season; the plan was to get him in, and get the signings in early. This has had a knock-on effect. It persuaded the players already here to stay, which is every bit as important. The only player we’ve lost is Scott Todd, and that’s to Larne.”
As Kelly acknowledged: “I knew we needed to strengthen the squad and we’re doing better than expected – also there are a few who are going to come along to training before making a final decision.”
However, it is four signings in particular that have made people sit up and take notice. The recruitment of ex-Larne skipper Aaron Black and goalkeeper Aaron Kerr from Ballymena United; much-travelled local striker Daryll Kernohan and the return of another ex-Inverman, Scott Cowie, after a successful season in the Premier Division with Islandmagee.
“I work with Aaron Black and I’m friendly with him. Injury forced him out at Ballymena but I coaxed him into giving it another go with us – and he could be an important signing. Larne were also after him.
“Aaron Kerr is a quality goalkeeper; he had been at Crusaders and Ballymena United, while Daryll Kernohan, another good mate of mine, has scored goals no matter where he’s been, although I feel the time is ripe for him to settle down and stick with the one club. Also, Scott Cowie will be a tower of strength at the back, and I’m delighted to see him back at Wellington.
“Getting these four has shown other prospective signings that we mean business and intend to give it a real go next season. Unfortunately Division 1A is shaping up to be the hardest it’s ever been. Derriaghy just missed out last year and will be determined to get up this time and Crumlin Star went through 1B unbeaten last season as well as winning the Border Cup. I played against them last year for Shankill, and they are a very good side.
“Tommy Leeman will bring players in at East Belfast; Dundonald are making a lot of signings, and the likes of Barn and Crumlin United will be there or thereabouts as will the other newly-promoted club, Orangefield OB.
“UUJ, if they get their best team out, are hard to beat. So there could be at least five or six teams in the hunt, but everyone is capable of beating everybody else, so it will be the case of the most consistent teams going up.”
Among the other new recruits are Kieran Kane, Adam Heggarty, Martyn Stirling, Matt Hyslop and last season’s Newington Rangers’ Player of the Year, David McCormick – and there could be one or two more signings to come.
CK, however, is not sure if he will be playing much himself. “I’m more interested in the management side of things, I’ve always said that. But I’m going to try and get fit and will play if I’m needed. There might be certain games that could suit me, I’ll see how pre-season goes.
“Last season I went to Premier Division side Shankill United and really enjoyed it but was unlucky with injuries. I had a torn hamstring and tried to play on, which didn’t do me any favours.
“I then went back to the Tech, but, understandably they couldn’t change a winning team. It was frustrating, but when I did work my way into the first-team squad, after a couple of games, I cracked my ribs and that was really it for the season.
“In my last full season at the Tech, I won the Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year trophies as well as being joint-top goalscorer – and that season I had started out at Wellington under Jim Hagan!
“I learned a lot from the one year I had managing the Tech, but remember I only got the job at the last minute; I started with hardly any players and no real pre-season. As the season went on, we had a decent team, when everyone was fit, and we stayed up comfortably enough. I’ve learnt a lot from the experience and now know what roads to go down.”
Wellington’s management team isn’t quite as big yet as Larne Tech’s, but they same to be following that same road, as joint-manager Thompson and joint player-manager Kelly will be joined by newly-appointed coach Sammy Workman, who had two spells in charge at Larne Olympic and was famously Larne manager for a day.
CK concluded: “I’ve had two seasons playing since my last experience as manager. I’ve learned a lot, and I just can’t wait to get started. It will be a tough season, and I’m not going to make any promises – but if we get one or two more in, at least we should be up there challenging at the right end of the table!”
Thompson added: “We were top six last season, we’re hoping with the additions to the squad, to be up around that top six again this year. There’s no easy matches, it’s a very tough league to get out of, but we’re building up a squad. CK has done tremendously well. It’s looking positive.”
Wellington’s first pre-season fixture is on Saturday, July 14 at home to Ballynure Old Boys. The following Saturday ( July 21), there will be the annual challenge match with Larne Tech Old Boys for the Dennis Harvey Memorial Trophy; this year’s match taking place at Craigyhill.
After the Tuesday night visit of Kilbride Swifts, the Saturday (28th) is Wellington’s annual Fun Day, where Carrick Rangers are the opposition. Making that same trip to Millbrook the following week are Ballyclare Comrades on Tuesday (31st) and Larne on Thursday, August 2.