This season may mark a first campaign in the Irish League’s second tier for Annagh United but the Tandragee Road men cannot expect the element of surprise to play any part this weekend against Ards.
Annagh’s perfect start to life in NIFL Championship One has left the club looking down on the rest of the division ahead of tomorrow’s (Saturday’s) top-of-the-table test.
However, Ards can turn to manager Niall Currie for inside knowledge on the surprise package of the season’s opening stages.
Currie started his management career with Annagh, still lives close to the ground and has worked with the majority of the home squad - including a record-breaking trophy return at Loughgall as boss of current United manager Dean Smith.
The strong links extend beyond the two managers to the club coaching staff and this weekend marks a first competitive fixture with Smith and Currie each directing affairs from the dug-outs.
“Niall is not just a former manager but a very good friend away from football,” said Smith. “He knows the players really well and there is certainly no chance of us flying under the radar this weekend.
“However, once the game starts it is going to be about the football and points for both clubs, irrespective of any other friendships or connections.
“I was always going to finish my playing career at Annagh United as this is my local club, so I can really appreciate the progress made by everyone to have us now sitting top of the table.
“Niall is a big part of that progress thanks to what he achieved as Annagh manager.
“His teams always play with great energy and football in the right way with total commitment.
“We must treat it like any other fixture and keep our defensive shape then try to impose our own gameplan on the match.”
Annagh have added Andrew Moore and Gary Boyle to the panel following a double deal with Armagh City.
“Both players have experience and Andy, of course, was previously with the club,” said Smith. “Gary is a strong striker who will give us options up top and both will add to the depth at the club.
“We have 11 players ruled out for this weekend due to suspension or other commitments so that is frustrating but those called on so far have been brilliant.
“The great start is testament to the hard work on and off the pitch but especially team spirit around the club.
“That group effort allows us to cope with so many changes.”
Kick-off will be 3 o’clock at Tandragee Road.