Sports

Villagers on the cusp of history

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Villagers on the cusp of history thumbnailRichhill AFC manager Neil Rowntree admitted his side are on the brink of creating history this weekend.

RICHHILL AFC manager Neil Rowntree has admitted that reaching the fifth round of the Tennent's Irish Cup would be a 'dream' come true for the newly amalgamated side.

The Villagers take on Grove United from the Amateur League on Saturday at the Richhill Recreational Centre and despite only being in existence for less than a season, Rowntree's side are on the cusp of securing their place in the fifth round alongside the likes of Linfield, Crusaders and holders Glenavon.

They secured their place in the fourth round after a nail-biting 1-0 win over Derry based side Oxford United Stars and Rowntree is looking forward to the challenge.

“We have one foot in the door and it is up to us to rise to the challenge and not freeze on the day.

“Grove United will be in the same frame of mind as us and whatever team gets through they are likely to be one of the lowest ranked teams in the competition.

“Not many players at this level get this sort of opportunity to get into this sort of stage of the Irish Cup!

“Getting to the fifth round would be one of the biggest things I have ever achieved in my football career and at the moment I would take a 1-0 win in the last minute with the ball going off the corner flag and into the net!"

Indeed the last time Rowntree was in the fifth round, it was as a player with Tandragee Rovers and it was ironic that they were knocked out by Oxford United Stars, the team his charges defeated back in November..

Richhill FC and Broomhill FC amalgamated in the summer and Rowntree said that the newly created side have made quicker progress than he expected.

“The amalgamation has gone well and I think we have made better progress than I thought we would.

“Credit must go the players who wanted to be part of this.

“We have seven players from the Broomhill side from last season and to be honest they were seven of the best, but they have bought into the idea and worked as hard as anyone else.

“From the team that played in the Alan Wilson Cup final we have around five or six players from the Richhill side and to be fair to the players they have worked hard and I think the result against Oxford United Stars in the last round really helped to gel us as a team."

Rowntree added that some encouraging words from ex-Irish League manager Paul Kirk has given him and his charges an extra spring in their step ahead of the big game.

“We played Rathfriland Rangers two weeks and ago and while we were easily defeated, we played some good stuff and in the first 15 minutes we were the better side.

“We had two great chances but didn't take them and Rathfriland showed their class and scored four goals in 15 minutes.

“They showed us a lot of respect by playing a full-strength team against us and Paul told me afterwards not to be too hard on ourselves.

“They were knocked out by Grove in the second round and he told me they took a gamble and played a rotated team and it backfired on them."

Rowntree added that the County Armagh outfit will be well prepared for Saturday's tie.

“We have done our homework on Grove United and we will be ready for them.

“They are a big physical side and they beat Rathfriland Rangers in the second round on penalties, before beating Glebe Rangers on penalties in the third round."

Rowntree added that reaching the fifth round would be a great reward for the hard-working committee behind the scenes.

“It would be a great reward for all their hard work.

“Neil Megaw (club chairman) is brilliant and he backs me to the hilt and he has been a great support to me.

“He has been there through the hard times with the old Richhill and I keep joking to him about walking out at Windsor Park in May with David Healy in the opposite dug-out!"

Rowntree is hopeful that Saturday's clash attracts a few spectators on the touchline at the Richhill Recreational Centre.

“It can be difficult at this level after you pay the referee and split the gate receipts with the other team.

“We had well above 60 people at the Oxford United Stars game and that was a big boost to the players and the club.

“The players appreciate the support and to be honest the players deserve all the credit for getting this far in the competition.

“The league is our bread and butter, but the Irish Cup has been a nice distraction.

“They really dug in when the pressure was on against Oxford United Stars and in the end David Ross showed great composure to score from the spot late on and to be honest I would take a similar outcome again this Saturday," said Rowntree.

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