Former Loughgall ace feels Dean Smith deserves 'so much credit' for Premiership achievement

Stevie Coulter believes the job that Dean Smith has done with Loughgall, not only comfortably preserving their top-flight status but also picking up results against the country’s elite, is the Irish League’s most impressive achievement of the season.
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In their first campaign back at Premiership level in 16 years – Coulter played for the County Armagh club in the last top-flight chapter – Smith has secured safety before the split and his team are still fighting to finish seventh, a position which they currently occupy.

Many had Loughgall as their pre-season relegation favourites, but an exciting brand of football has helped them collect points against all of the top-six apart from Linfield, including victories over Larne – they remain the only team to achieve that feat – Glentoran and Coleraine.

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Coulter recently worked in a youth development role at Lakeview Park, witnessing first-hand the foundations which Smith was laying, so this success comes as no surprise to him.

Loughgall manager Dean Smith. PIC: David Maginnis/Pacemaker PressLoughgall manager Dean Smith. PIC: David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Loughgall manager Dean Smith. PIC: David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press

"I'm not surprised at all,” he said. “I could see in training how technically good their players were in football terms and in their pace of play.

"We had a few discussions when I was at the club with a few older players comparing their team now to the team that I would have played in and I'm so pro-Dean and his team. I just think on the pitch their football and how they conduct themselves, they are so tuned in and I just love what I see at the club at the moment.

"He deserves so much credit. He's went about his business as manager really well. I'm sure he has had opportunities to look elsewhere, but he believes in the club and he has got his rewards out of it.

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"Football has progressed with there being so much data and teams doing a lot of homework, so Dean has had to deal with all of that. He knows other teams are looking at what they're doing with stats and performances, whereas that wasn't the case when we were last in the Premiership.

"He's been able to get to this level even with teams having all of this information, so it's an even greater achievement in my eyes.

"It’s absolutely the biggest achievement of the season. Getting Loughgall to this position is an over-achievement compared to what everyone else sees.

"Some of us have been lucky enough to see what he has been building on over the last few years. I'm sure many people in football and players feel he should be given Manager of the Year.”

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Only Smith himself and current star Nathaniel Ferris have scored more goals for Loughgall this millennium than Coulter, who also enjoyed a period in the Premiership with Stephen Baxter’s Crusaders.

He has been mightily impressed by the impact that both Ferris and 21-year-old Benji Magee have had in their first top-flight outings with the pair contributing 29 league goals between them.

"They are fantastic,” he added. “I spoke to one or two about the club and I don't know Benji personally, but from what I see he's very unpredictable and you just don't know what he's going to do.

"He tries things, which is so refreshing to see, and they've came off for him. He's probably the key to Loughgall being where they are with not only the goals, but his mindset of trying things and what he's been able to pull off during the season. Those things get you up the table and get you points.

"Nathaniel over the last three or four years has been fantastic. He's just a big old-fashioned centre-forward who is great at his job. Dean has built a great squad which is really well-balanced."

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