Loughgall’s current form may provide cause for cheer but manager Dean Smith is also working towards future gains.
A 4-0 victory over Queen’s on Saturday extended the Villagers’ unbeaten start to seven Bluefin Sport Championship games - with five wins placing Loughgall in top spot.
The superb start has arrived as something of a surprise package alongside rival squads at Portadown, Ards, Newry City AFC and Ballinamallard United with deeper reserves in terms of finances and figures.
Smith cites team spirit as central to the club’s initial rewards alongside some smart additions and although many may consider the marathon of a league campaign too significant a test to Loughgall’s limited resources, the long-term prospects at Lakeview Park remain positive in terms of player development.
The midweek Mid-Ulster Cup triumph over Banbridge Town arrived with goals by Jamie Douglas and Scott McCann and eight teenagers in Loughgall colours at the final whistle.
“We made wholesale changes from the league win over Queen’s to the Banbridge cup tie but to come away from both games with wins and clean sheets is really pleasing for everyone at the club,” said Smith. “With our budget it is a reality that the more successful a youth system is in place then the better for the club overall.
“A lot of work has gone into developing players at Loughgall over the years and you only have to look at the side out against Banbridge to see the current success.
“Across the goalkeeper and back four we had three 17-year-olds, a 19-year-old and an 18-year-old.
“We will continue to use cup games to give players minutes around the squad and from the under 20s as they offer a competitive environment but without the same pressures as when going for league points,” said Smith. “We still obviously want to win and always make selections with that goal in mind but the incentives on top of the result come for the younger players as a chance to gain first-team experience and the opportunity to get a bigger draw in the next round.”
Loughgall visit Ballinamallard United tomorrow (Saturday) aiming to extend the impressive start against one of the clubs Smith expects to prove competitive overall.
“Ballinamallard have basically managed to keep the squad together that reached last season’s Irish Cup final, plus added a few, so I expect them to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season,” said Smith. “It is a tough test but one we are all looking forward to from our viewpoint.
“We have brought three new players into our back four but everyone has settled quickly and that defensive resolve is a big plus this season.
“We have always had individuals with the ability to turn games but now we are getting the balance right across the pitch.”
Kick-off will be 3 o’clock.