Adam Kelly has admitted that the “exuberance of youth” is proving to be a two-edged sword as his rapidly-improving Saintfield continue to shoot themselves in the foot.
On the one hand, the Saints chief is buoyed by the progress his young, new-look team continue to make week-on-week as the players get to know each other.
But on the other, inexperience and a lack of game management at this level is costing them dear, with a valuable point squandered in the dying embers of their game at league leaders Shorts on Saturday, seven days after they blew a 4-2 second half lead at home to promotion contenders St Oliver Plunkett.
Kelly was handed a horrible deck at the start of the season with the heart of his team ripped out following a raft of departures, perhaps the most painful of those James Sofley’s switch to Ards Rangers.
But it wasn’t just Sofley, who guaranteed Kelly 30-plus goals a season. His young strike partner Andy Clarke — who had formed a 50-goal partnership up front with Sofley – also moved on, heading for the Irish League with Crusaders and latterly Linfield, while Peter Strain signed with Kilmore, James Milligan for Comber, and Sam Kirk at Dundela.
Kelly has taken all those setbacks manfully on the chin, a small consolation coming in the fact they all moved on to a higher level, but they aren’t his concern anymore, rebuilding Saintfield is, and to that extent, he believes he is getting there – slowly, painfully, but surely.
“When you concede three goals, you can’t really say too much, but we were well in the game,” explained the Saintfield boss, as he reflected on Shorts’ last-gasp 3-2 win.
“They scored with the last kick in the first half, and with the last kick of the second half to get the three points, and they scored a good second goal.
“For us, there was a bit of naivety, we have a lot of young players and went chasing to win the game.
“You put it down to the exuberance of youth, trying to win a match when you could say we’d have been better off taking a point and then we had a bit of a platform to build on.
“But performances have been improving, we lost so many players during lockdown, so there’s been a big overhaul, a lot of young guys have come in, like Callum McCloskey, he’s reintegrated back into the team after being in Spain, Jack Brown and Samuel Simpson, so it’s just a matter of them and a few others getting familiar with each other.
“As for goals, we’ve actually been sharing the goals around. Adam Childs is our captain now, he’s been playing centre forward and has been chipping in. And we still have a bit of experience, Tony Liken has come back in, he scored there on Saturday, and Ryan Sofley is still there, James’ brother, in centre midfield, alongside Ciaran Taylor who is playing well in midfield.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Kelly reckons Saintfield just need to keep the faith.
“We’ve played Holywood, Greenisland, Tullycarnet, Woodvale… we’ve played all these teams who are in the mix for promotion, and then the next two weeks, we have Holywood and Greenisland again,” he said.
“So there’s almost a mini-table being formed. At the start of the season, I thought there’d Holywood, Plunkett and Greenisland would be the three, but the performances of Shorts and Tullycarnet have propelled them up in there.
“Bloomfield started really strongly, and then had a couple of injuries, but they are coming back, so it’s a really tough league to predict.
“For us, we just need to put as many points on the board as we can, and to put in as many performances as we can and try to take a bit from each performance and get a bit of familiarity with the guys.
“And we’re hoping that we can get a run in the Clarence Cup this year to give us a target towards the end of the season.”