The start of the season often sees the emergence of a surprise package at the business end of the table but few bright beginnings have been as unexpected as that produced by Dungannon Swifts FC, who have made the most of their reprieve having finished bottom in Northern Ireland last season.
The outlook was gloomy at Dungannon in May. Rooted to the foot of the Premier League table, the announcement that Bangor FC were voluntarily stepping down to the second tier for financial reasons looked like merely prolonging the inevitable. That feeling intensified as they lost the first leg of the subsequent relegation/promotion play-off 2-1 at Donegal Celtic FC, but then another minor Lazarus act as Timmy Adamson scored to set up a 1-0 win in the return and the Swifts survived by virtue of the away-goals rule.
After their spell in the last-chance saloon, the Tyrone outfit are now dining in more vaunted surroundings. Four games into the new campaign, they are the only Premier League team with a 100 per cent record, confounding expectations. Not for manager Damian Robinson, however. He believes it is reward for putting focus back on the local community both on and off the pitch.
"Dungannon have always had a good local base from as long as I've been at the club," said Robinson, a former fans' favourite at Stangmore Park. "I think maybe we tried to move forward and people thought the way to go was to sign players from further afield – maybe we lost a wee bit of local spirit."
In tandem with 'Mr Dungannon Swifts', the club's general manager Joe McAree, Robinson believes they can enjoy a return to the form that saw them finish fourth in the league in 2005 and 2006, also reaching the 2007 Irish Cup final. "There's no reason why we can't get back to those days," he insisted. "We have a really good youth setup and we're bringing through a few good young players. If we can consolidate this season we have some 17- and 18-year-olds that will be ready to step up."
So far the Swifts' victories have all come by a single goal and after their own recent experiences they will be taking nothing for granted as they take on bottom club Lisburn Distillery FC this evening. The Whites finished fourth last season but having surprisingly replaced long-serving manager Paul Kirk with Jimmy Brown, they have struggled thus far, losing all four games. As the Swifts have shown, though, from there the only way is up.
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