Steven Ferguson ‘quality’ and ‘dedication’ singled out after Loughgall landmark
Loughgall’s senior season finished on Tuesday night with an Irish Cup exit to Linfield - but manager Dean Smith is aiming to draw benefits far beyond the three-game campaign.
With the Championship programme declared null-and-void under coronavirus restrictions, Loughgall’s focus turned to an intensive Irish Cup run which featured wins over Banbridge Town and Warrenpoint Town before the midweek quarter-final exit.
However, Smith is determined to draw lessons from the experience and carry the positives towards future progress.
Limited playing time over the past year has failed to restrict the Villagers’ off-the-field ambition and ground developments, plus success in securing a Promotion licence, signal long-term goals.
“Against Linfield I feel we can look back on chances created and how we matched them for long periods in open play as real positives and something from which the players should draw encouragement,” said Smith. “The Irish Cup run produced so many positives but we want to carry forward these experiences.
“Thanks, too, to Linfield who were very professional to deal with over everything and, in particular, manager David Healy for supporting Hilbert Willis on his charity walk after the game.
“The work done by the club over the past 18 months has been phenomenal...in the one place we can offer a training pitch, grass pitch, gym, Cyro-spa, physio area and brand-new changing rooms.
“What the club has done is take away the excuses - for myself and the players.
“We now want to go to the next level, they’ve given us everything we could have asked for and now comes that pressure...but it’s pressure you should want.
“If you don’t enjoy that challenge you are in the wrong game.
“Mentality plays a big part and when the players look back over this period it should be seen as a stepping stone.
“Ben Murdock and Berraat Turker joined the club in January 2020 and the Linfield game marked a first competitive loss as Loughgall players.
“With everything going on over the past two seasons we have a squad of players signed in that period without the usual level of integration from that same timespan.
“But how the players coped over lockdown and since returning ahead of the Irish Cup ties has been a credit to the group.”
One player established within the framework of Loughgall life is 38-year-old Steven Ferguson.
The Linfield game marked his 300th appearance in the heart of the Villagers’ midfield across the past decade.
“Steven has lost out on his testimonial season because of everything this year but we have plans in place to honour his contribution to the club,” said Smith. “To stay at one club for so long, particularly when he had numerous opportunities to leave Loughgall for Premiership teams, is phenomenal to be honest.
“He sets a great example to everyone, especially younger players, with his professionalism and dedication on and off the pitch but, crucially, remains someone who brings real quality.”
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