Gary Duke, having spent over a decade devoted to Dollingstown’s rise up the ranks, will take his first steps down another long-term project this week as Annagh United manager.
Duke helped guide Dollingstown to a string of silverware within Mid-Ulster football before steering the club on to the senior stage for an Irish League third-tier test.
After more than 11 years in the Dollingstown dugout, Duke is relishing a fresh challenge and opportunity to prove his management credentials at Championship level.
“It is a big challenge and was a tough decision to make to leave Dollingstown,” said Duke, a former Irish League midfielder. “But in my playing career I worked hard to play at as high a level as possible and wanted the same challenge as manager.
“I took time to think over the decision but am certainly excited and cannot wait to get started with the Annagh players.
“It will not be a short-term fix for the Annagh but I spent more than 11 years at Dollingstown and am looking forward to another challenge.”
Duke will spend this week introducing his ideas to the Annagh players before a weekend friendly on Saturday at Tandragee Road against Glentoran reserves. His first competitive fixture will arrive the following weekend when Institute make the trip to town.
Although the friendly serves as Duke’s immediate focus, offering a first glimpse of his squad in a matchday situation, he is keen to tackle the task of steering Annagh out of the drop zone.
Annagh have conceded 67 goals in just 16 Championship fixtures and Duke accepts the prize of a management position within the domestic game’s second division is balanced by the realistic threat of relegation.
“I just want to get started and people may have views from the outside but talks with the Annagh committee members proved really positive and we are keen to push the club forward,” said Duke. “I was happy to take on the long-term challenge at Dollingstown and want to do the same here with Annagh United.
“It is exciting and we have some promising young players at the club but I would be keen to bring in experience in the next transfer window.
“The target would be to sign five or six players to strengthen the overall squad.
“I have seen players from levels covering Mid-Ulster football up to the Irish League in my time at Dollingstown and will know more about what is needed after training.
“Seamus Heath has a lot of experience and Alan Murphy is a great Annagh clubman and someone I have known for a long time, so they will make up a strong coaching team on top of the committee support.”
Duke has left Dollingstown competitive across a number of fronts and in contention for another Mid-Ulster Intermediate League Section A title.
“It was hard to leave Dollingstown and tough talking to the players last week,” he said. “I would have loved to have signed off on Saturday by helping Dollingstown reach the Bob Radcliffe Cup final but our semi-final was called off.
“I leave Dollingstown with some brilliant memories and want to thank Hubert Watson and the committee for such excellent support, plus the players who gave me so much over the years.”