Newry City defender Darren King insists the backbone of those involved at the club has helped them back to where they are today.
After the winding up of Newry City in 2012 and the subsequent formation of a new club, the County Down side has risen from the fifth tier of football in the country to the very top after a year in the Danske Bank Premiership in 2018/19.
However, Darren Mullen’s side are now plotting a return to the top table as they lead the Lough41 Championship by six points as they face Loughgall in a top-two clash this weekend.
King, who has been involved at Newry in two different spells for 15 years, remarked that he and his team-mates are simply taking one game a time.
“It takes a lot of belief and commitment for what Newry has achieved,” he said.
“The Organising Committee and everyone involved with Newry City A.F.C at the beginning all had the same goal of getting the club back into the Premiership.
“Darren Mullen brought in the right players to get the club back up the leagues and it has been a remarkable progress.
“Like at all clubs, you only see first-hand the hard work of volunteers, staff and everyone behind the scenes when you are a part of it and Newry are no different as they all want to do well for the club.
“If we get promoted, it will be my fourth time playing Premiership football but we are simply taking each game as it comes.
“The Championship is such a tough, tough league and it’s so changeable as all teams – no matter the league position – are capable of taking points off each other.”
King, known to his team mates as ‘Engine’, made his debut for Newry City in 2004 and was given the captain’s armband by Pat McGibbon in 2011/12.
“I came into the squad under Roy McCreadie and unfortunately he left a short time later, with Paul Millar coming in for half a season,” he reflected.
“There were a few stop-starts and caretaker managers before Gerry Flynn was handed the reins for the first time and I really enjoyed It. We reached the League Cup final and there were plenty of good times.
“A few other managers came in, including Gerry for a second spell, but things didn’t go to plan and the financial implications took a turn for the worse and we were relegated into the Championship.
“Pat McGibbon was appointed manager in 2011/12 and he was a gentleman and knew how to deal with players. It was an honour when he appointed me as captain and we were unlucky not to go back up as we were narrowly beaten in the promotion/relegation play-off by Lisburn Distillery.”
The club would be wound up in September 2012 but King revealed that the camaraderie and team spirit was that high at Newry that the players played for an entire season without being paid.
“Unfortunately, due to financial issues, Newry folded in Pat’s second season and it was heart-breaking for everyone involved,” he continued.
“The season before we folded, we were playing for nothing as we really enjoyed our football under Pat and Darren as his assistant.
“Of course, we had bills to pay and other commitments outside of football, but as a group we all decided to play for Newry for free as we wanted to keep going.
“I know there were whispers of people saying we were getting paid and all the rest but I can hand on heart say we weren’t.”
King would join a list of players from Newry City who made the move to neighbours Warrenpoint Town in January 2013.
Despite crossing the local derby divide, King insists there are quite a lot of similarities between the two clubs who will meet in the first round of the Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup next month.
“If Newry didn’t fold then I wouldn’t have left them,” the 36-year-old stressed.
“However, I had no club and I knew a few of the Newry lads were joining Warrenpoint Town and I followed suit as I’m good friends with Barry Gray outside of football.
“In my first season, we got promotion to the Premiership after beating Donegal Celtic in a play-off and we would manage to survive in the next two seasons after that.
“Unfortunately, we were relegated the season after which was hard to take but we re-grouped the year after under Barry and then Matthew Tipton as we won the league and Mid-Ulster Cup.
“The people involved at Warrenpoint Town are great people and it is a really good family club quite similar to Newry in many ways. There was never anyone on your back after a defeat and they supported me during my four-and-a-half years there.”
However, the lure of a move back to Newry was too strong for King to turn down as he made his way back to The Showgrounds ahead of the 2017/18 campaign.
“Despite being at Warrenpoint and giving everything that I had for them and their supporters, I openly admitted that my heart was always at Newry and I was checking in on their progress,” he revealed.
“They were flying up through the leagues and despite getting promotion to the Premiership at Warrenpoint for the second time, I wanted to help Newry get out of the Championship so I returned under Darren as my heart and affiliation was with them.
“I wanted to get Newry playing at the highest level again and thankfully we were able to do that, albeit it was only a season in the top flight.
“We all have that hunger to get there again and the current crop of youngsters at the club is the best I’ve seen during my time here.
“The likes of John McGovern, James Teelan and Brian Healy are keeping me on my toes.”