Free entry history as Irish League play-off tie celebrates town’s rich pedigree

Neil McCullough, as a past Annagh United manager and present Portadown number two, has a special insight into the impact on football’s future in the area from this week’s Premiership promotion/relegation play-off.

By Patrick Van Dort
Friday, 6th May 2022, 4:17 pm

Just a few miles geographically separate Portadown’s Shamrock Park from the Tandragee Road home of Annagh United...but there’s a significant gulf in the neighbours’ history.

And now, given the demise of four-time Irish League champions Portadown and rise of the Annagh club once managed at Mid-Ulster level by McCullough, two 90-minute meetings this week could redefine the Portadown football landscape.

Portadown gained the upper hand following Tuesday’s thrilling five-goal clash at Tandragee Road as Howard Beverland, Stephen Teggart and Billy Stedman helped to secure a 3-2 advantage.

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Portadown hold a 3-2 lead over Annagh United following Tuesday's thrilling Premiership promotion/relegation play-off first leg. The second leg on Friday at Shamrock Park will be played with entry free to all supporters. Pic by Pacemaker

Now the Ports must play host to Annagh for the final leg tomorrow evening - with Portadown directors making club history by throwing open the Shamrock Park turnstiles with an open invite to attend free of charge.

With the Ports’ senior survival at stake stacked up against Annagh searching to share the spotlight with Irish League football’s elite names next season, McCullough is aware of the rewards delivered to date...and the Premiership prize on the line.

“You could see on Tuesday the interest in town around the fixture and that will carry into Friday,” said McCullough. “As a former Annagh manager I was delighted, financially, to see the club get such a bumper gate on Tuesday.

“We all knew the level of interest in the match around town and Tuesday reflected what the game meant to fans of both clubs and people in the area.

“But it’s only half-time in the play-off - we had done our homework and Annagh produced what we expected, so it’s a case of more of the same at Shamrock.

“No-one is under any illusions thinking the job is done yet - we must put in the same work as Tuesday...and then more on top.

“I’m coming 52 years old and at 28 Annagh gave me my first job in management.

“I was there during that transition from Mid-Ulster football into the Irish League.

“It’s a great club with great people.

“Brian McGurgan was chairman and now his son Ciaran, who I remember running around the club as a young boy, is doing a great job as manager.

“Where they’ve come from is an incredible achievement thanks to first-class people and successful investment.

“There’ll be no need for any big team talks from us...the players know exactly the situation.

“Free entry on Friday is a great initiative by the Portadown directors and we are all aware of the help a big crowd can give...the more people the better in supporting our players.”