Sports

Seven years of service

Thursday, 18 May 2017

SEVEN years after he took over the reigns at Holm Park, Armagh City manager Marty Rice ended his spell in charge after a demoralising 7-1 defeat to Newry City AFC in the promotion/relegation playoff.

The result came just 12 months after City finished 3rd in the Championship and in an extended chat with Marty last Monday he admitted that it was the right decision for him and for the club to step aside.

I've interviewed a large number of Irish League managers over the years and I always found my conversations with Marty incredibly refreshing and honest.

Seven years ago he was laughed at when he was told that he would bring a team of youth team players and the best local talent back into the Irish League spotlight.

He was told it was impossible, he was told that his young players wouldn't cope with the league and he was told they wouldn't make any progress.

Two years after taking over he walked into a committee meeting and said that his next target was to bring top-flight football back to Holm Park.

Indeed, had City applied for a domestic license last season they could have replaced my own club Ballinamallard United in the top-flight.

Marty said that he had achieved almost everything that he set out to achieve and admitted that it pained him to leave his hometown club having suffered the ignominy of relegation to the third tier.

However, Marty said that the time for a rebuild both on and off the pitch may be slightly easier in the Premier Intermediate League compared to the unforgiving Championship division.

Marty's philosophy over the last seven years has been to give young players opportunities and find unpolished diamonds and give them the platform to perform and move on to bigger and better opportunities if they shine.

Stephen Murray was playing for St. Mary's Reserves before he was snapped up by City and he was soon followed by the inspirational Eamon 'Snowball' Kelly, whose absence through injury this season has been felt both on and off the pitch.

Dale Montgomery was playing his football for Lisanally Rangers and impressed so much that Dungannon Swifts snapped him up in 2015 for a chance to play Premier League football.

Ultan Lennon and Eoin Toal shone in the heart of the defence and Toal has been rewarded with representative action for Northern Ireland at U17, U18 and U19 and has now signed a full-time contract with Kenny Shiels at Derry City.

Darragh Noonan was a colossus for City in the heart of defence moving from U18s to senior football and his departure to Lurgan Celtic in January was a bitter blow for Rice.

Further forward, Shea McGerrigan rebuilt his career at City and earned himself a move to Portadown, while Philip Donnelly arrived at Armagh City with his career at a crossroads and Rice helped transform him into one of the best players in the Championship.

Marty admitted that he will look back on what he achieved over the last seven years with tremendous pride and believes he has created a bit of a lasting legacy in the Championship.

More and more clubs are starting to think outside the box and avoid jumping on the merry-go-round and signing the usual campaigners, who jump from club to club.

Loughgall followed a similar philosophy last summer with the additions of John Uprichard from Portadown BBOB, Stefan McMaster and Marc McConnell from Dungannon's U20s and free-scoring Mark McCullough from Crewe United.

What little money is available at this level must be utilised efficiently and credit must go to Dean Smith for the progress he made with Loughgall from when he took control in early November.

Indeed the Villagers did incredibly well not to get stuck in a rut like City did and they can celebrate their 50th anniversary with a great deal of pride, having finished 6th in what was a very competitive league.

It certainly promises to be an exciting league next term with Portadown dropping down into the second tier and while Loughgall will be disappointed to not have two clashes with City to look forward to, they will have a two intriguing ties against former manager Niall Currie next time around.

For those in charge at Holm Park, they will no doubt lick their wounds and try and get back into the second tier at the first time of asking, but they are likely to be forced into a complete revamp of the playing and coaching staff and the next few weeks could be an important time for the short term future of the club.

Goalkeeper and captain John Connolly has signalled his intentions to move on following Rice's resignation and there are likely to be a number of interested parties in some of City's talented players.

They say the 'show must go on' and that will inevitably happen at Armagh City, but it would be foolish to simply take what Marty Rice did for granted.

He took over a club that was on its knees following the Fundacion Marcet link-up and he has secured silverware and claimed some major scalps during his seven year reign and there is no doubt he will go down as one of the most influential coaches in the club's history.

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