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Football: IT'S ACHIAN OF MAGIC; Sixth placed Mal still fancy title chance.

Byline: Martin Mawhinney

MALACHIANS may have been beaten by relegation strugglers Kilmore Rec at the weekend, but boss Frankie Campbell has this resounding message for the rest of the Amateur League: "We haven't gone away, y'know".

Silverware has been something of a rarity for the Greencastle outfit, and their manager has yet to lift a single trophy in the four years that he has been in charge.

A loyal boardroom has ensured that Campbell and his side have never felt the burden of weighty demands, but he is still adamant that this could be the season he finally rewards their unfaltering patience with the title.

Malachians may lie in what seems to be a fairly innoxious position in sixth place, but, in theory, their destiny lies in their own hands. If they were to win the games that they have in hand over the others above them, and continued not to drop points, it would be they who are crowned champions in May.

Of course, there is still plenty of football to be played before we reach that stage - in Malachians' case, more than half their games this season - but Campbell is merely reminding the other title hopefuls not to forget that his team are still biting at their heels.

Reflecting on Saturday's disappointing defeat, he said: "It's a bit of a hiccup, but nothing more. Obviously you go into these matches looking for three points, and when you don't get them you feel let down, but now it's just a case of picking ourselves up and getting on with it."

Most frustrating of all for the manager was that the 3- 1 loss brought a terrific run of three successive wins, with only one goal conceded, to an abrupt end.

Now he must look ahead to their biggest league games of the season without question - Albert Foundry this weekend followed by Killyleagh the following Saturday. Both games will provide a stiff test for Campbell's title contenders, giving his players the chance to show if they really have a genuine chance of glory this season.

The Malachians boss added: "You have to think that both these teams have a chance of winning the league. In that respect, they are both four pointers.

"You only have to look at how far Albert Foundry have come after getting promoted last year, and there is no way you can forget about Killyleagh yet.

"There are so many people who have said so many things about Killyleagh this season, and they could all be left with egg on their faces.

"Yes, they have had a bad start by their own high standards, but you can never write them off. It's much too early for that yet, and they'll be after their seventh title in a row.

"If we can win those two games, then we can get can get ourselves right back into contention, and show everyone that we are capable of beating the big sides. It would be a fantastic four points."

Among those battling with Malachians for the title is the team where Campbell cut his managerial teeth.

Newington YC have been flying high this year, but Campbell gained much of the experience that has helped him make his current side one of the Premier Section newboys' biggest rivals, as an assistant with them in the mid to late 90s.

So far we have seen one of the most unpredictable league campaigns since the inception of the Premier Section' a fact demonstrated by their weekend defeat at the hands of the division's bottom club, not to mention Albert Foundry's loss to struggling Wellington.

"It has been a strange season," admitted Campbell. "Every game has been tough - we have been kind of up and down, but so have all of the other clubs."

As a direct consequence, every league point has become that bit more precious this season, and despite suffering a 3- 1 defeat by eventual Border Cup winners Newington in the competition's semi-final, the Malachians boss would never swap that result for the 1-0 win he recorded over them in the league this season.

If they had beaten Campbell's former club in the Border Cup, it would have taken them to the first and only final of his reign. As it stands however, the league remains the manager's one shot at success at this time of asking.

He said: "We haven't won anything, and it is about time we got a trophy. Unfortunately I have nothing like that to look back on, but for me, the pleasure has come from the loyalty of the committee, my assistant Mickey McKay, and the players."

Long-serving players Jim Kavanagh, Nicky Mulvenna, and Gerry Adams Snr have a combined age of over 100, and together with free-scoring forward JP Dornan, they have stuck by the manager.

"They are a steadying influence, particularly for some of the new faces we have brought in over the last few seasons," said Campbell.

And, perhaps more importantly, it is they who will appreciate the size of the achievement all the more, if Malachians can make history by etching their name on the Premier Section trophy for the first ever time.

CAPTION(S):

GOOD MOVE REC-ED: Malachians' striker John Paul Donnan and Kilmore Rec's Michael McGarrity at Crossgar. Picture by Philip Peacock' MY BALL: Kilmore's John McCarthy loses out to Malachians' keeper Ryan Lavery on Saturday' IT'S MY SHOUT: Malachians boss Frankie Campbell
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 7, 2006
Words:903
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