Hatfield realistic but relishing role as manager at struggling Donegal Celtic

Stephen Hatfield from Portadown has taken over as Donegal Celtic manager.
Stephen Hatfield from Portadown has taken over as Donegal Celtic manager.

Stephen Hatfield will step into the Donegal Celtic dugout for the first time on Saturday realistic but relishing the challenge with the NIFL Championship One basement side.

Portadown-born Hatfield, having accepted the manager’s position last week, is counting down until a first competitive kick-off - with Celtic set to tackle Lisburn Distillery in search of a first victory of the league campaign.

Key to survival could prove improved home form and Celtic will welcome Distillery in pursuit of an opening reward on Suffolk Road soil.

“There has been a lot of negativity surrounding the club from people outside but that tends to happen given the results,” said Hatfield, who previously spent time in Irish League management with Chimney Corner. “In my experience, the people have been so warm and given me a great welcome, across the board.

“The priority is, of course, to try and avoid relegation but the board members remain realistic and it about first rebuilding.

“I had something like five senior players or so on the books when I arrived, alongside the under 17s.

“However, we have been busy since last week and secured a few signings so far with more discussions in the pipeline.

“Initially, I am looking to bring in players I have worked with in the past to help us hit the ground running but there is also the awareness to strengthen the community links.”

January’s limited league commitments will hand Hatfield the chance to analyse and assess his players on the training pitch as he attempts to integrate a coaching blueprint.

“We are looking at the big picture here but view Donegal Celtic as a big club and consider it such an exciting challenge,” said Hatfield, who has a Mid-Ulster Football League background with Broomhill and Armagh Blues alongside youth coaching at Loughgall and Dungannon Swifts. “One signing I can confirm is Dan Rayner from Broomhill, who I rate as an exciting young centre-back.

“We want to give people a chance at this level and hand potential an opportunity for Irish League football in the game’s second tier.

“We have some senior players plus a few signings, plus I was impressed with the under 17s when I watched the recent cup final.”

Celtic and Distillery remain the only sides in Championship One with a single-digit return from the league fixture list.

Distillery hold a slender one-point advantage over bottom side Celtic thanks to one win from 11 games - with Hatfield hoping to turn the tables with a perfect start on Saturday and result that could push his players up the standings.

“Everyone is looking forward to Saturday’s match with Distillery and both clubs probably sit in a similar position in terms of big names but current struggles,” said the 27-year-old former goalkeeper. “This is a club with top-flight history and we are buzzing at the opportunity.

“Everyone will start with a clean slate.

“It is an honour to be handed this job and the Donegal Celtic name remains a big one in the Irish League.”