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Belfast Celtic boss urges caution ahead of new season

Belfast Celtic manager Stephen McAlorum (right) admits he didn’t plan to step into management so soon, but couldn’t turn down the chance to lead the West Belfast outfit into a new chapter, while he says the signing of Mark Clarke, pictured above, was a massive coup for the new season Belfast Celtic manager Stephen McAlorum (right) admits he didn’t plan to step into management so soon, but couldn’t turn down the chance to lead the West Belfast outfit into a new chapter, while he says the signing of Mark Clarke, pictured above, was a massive coup for the new season
By Paddy Tierney

NEWLY-appointed Belfast Celtic boss Stephen McAlorum admits management wasn’t on his radar when he was first approached about the gig last month.

Following a protracted name-change saga, Sport and Leisure Swifts became Belfast Celtic at the end of last season, with the West Belfast outfit beginning their rebirth in the Ballymena and Provincial Intermediate League after Sport and Leisure lost their Irish League status at the end of the 2018/19 campaign.

With their relegation already confirmed, manager Packie McAllister announced his intention to quit before their final game against Lisburn Distillery with assistant boss Barry Johnston soon following him.

The pair have since taken up the reins at local rivals St James’s Swifts, while McAlorum and former Donegal Celtic manager Paddy Kelly have assumed the managerial vacancy at Belfast Celtic.

McAlorum, however, says he was persuaded to take on the role after a conversation with Belfast Celtic chairman Jim Gillen and secretary John Morgan.

“It (management) was something that I wasn’t really interested in, to be honest,” stated McAlorum.

“I spoke to Jim and John and a few of the boys and they pitched their ideas to me and, after that, it was something I was keen on.

“It was a no-brainer to be honest. I brought in Paddy Kelly, who knows the game inside out and that’ll help me a lot.

“We’ve brought in good coaches as well, the likes of Owen Baggley and Packie McLaughlin. I’ve a good team around me.”

McAlorum also says he is relishing the prospect of sharing a sideline with McAllister and Johnston during the forthcoming season and feels St James’ Swifts are one of the favourites for the league title.

“I am very friendly with Packie (McAllister) and Janty (Barry Johnston),” he added.

“I think they’ll be quietly confident of getting promoted this league. They’ve a very good side and I’d say they’ll go very close to winning it.”

Despite the friendship, McAlorum got one over on his former gaffer by luring his former Glentoran teammate Mark Clarke to join him at Belfast Celtic.

“Yeah, it definitely was a big signing,” said McAlorum.

“To be honest, I was a little bit surprised he was let go by St James’.

“I was one of his groomsmen at his wedding recently so we are good friends. I think that friendship made it an easy decision for him.

“Myself and Mark won an Irish Cup together at Glentoran so I was glad that he was keen to come on board.”

If signing Clarke was a statement of intent from Belfast Celtic, the Swifts did likewise by bringing in former Cliftonville star Ryan Catney while Liam Carland, Pierce Tully and Michael Magill moved from Sport and Leisure/Belfast Celtic to St James’ following McAllister’s appointment.

Belfast Celtic played their first competitive game against Distillery last week before taking on Premier Intermediate outfit Newington at Ulida 3G on Saturday.

They continued their pre-season preparations with a clash against St Luke’s last night.

While McAlorum revealed he has registered himself as a Belfast Celtic player for the forthcoming season, he doesn’t envisage himself togging out unless an injury crisis depletes his squad.

“I’ve registered myself, but I am hoping I’ll not have to play this season,” stated McAlorum.
“I’ll see how things go. I am hoping I’ll not need to play. The players we’ve brought in are hopefully good enough and I think they are.

“Unless, there is a massive amount of injuries or something, I don’t see myself being involved in the playing side of things.”

The Belfast Celtic boss also added that he doesn’t foresee any further signings ahead of the start of the new campaign which gets underway with a trip to Suffolk Road to take on Donegal Celtic on Saturday, August 10.

“I’m happy with the squad we’ve assembled, but I am under no illusions, it will take time for everyone to bed in,” added the former Irish League star.

“This year’s targets are just about bedding everyone in, having a good go at the league and see where it takes us. There are some very good teams in the league and we know it is going to be very tough.

“In our first year we are just trying to find out where we can pitch ourselves and see how we go from there.”

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