‘What do I know about the squad? I know they’re champions. That tells me everything.’

New Rathfriland Rangers manager Paul Kirk (left) and coach Stevie Houston (right) are welcomed to Iveagh Park by club chairman Howard Murray. Photo: Iain McDowell / Rathfriland FC
New Rathfriland Rangers manager Paul Kirk (left) and coach Stevie Houston (right) are welcomed to Iveagh Park by club chairman Howard Murray. Photo: Iain McDowell / Rathfriland FC

Rathfriland Rangers’ new manager Paul Kirk is hoping he’s the man to shepherd in a whole new era for the club.

Rathfriland and Kirk certainly seem to be the perfect match. The Whites are a club with grand ambition and Kirk is a man with grand experience.

He led Lisburn Distillery to a long spell of success during a 13 year reign, including four European qualifications in six seasons before a surprise dismissal.

With a long-term project in mind to make Rathfriland a NIFL club, Kirk seems the ideal candidate.

“There were a few issues at Lisburn Rangers and I was considering moving on then Rathfriland got on the phone,” he said.

“I was impressed with the vision they had, where they wanted to get to and what they wanted to achieve. They really sold the club to me.

“They have a four or five year project in mind with a restructure of the club. It’s similar to what I was doing at Lisburn Rangers.

“They want to move forward. They are a club with big ambitions and they even have plans to build a 200 seater stand into the ground. The changing rooms they have there at the minute are better than a lot of the top level ones in Northern Ireland.

“The whole set-up there is great, the people are great and I’m lucky that they have given me the opportunity to be a part of it.

“The drive is to win the league in two or three seasons. Then we’ll get a new set of objectives and see where it takes us.”

Kirk is a man with the aspirations to match the club. And he knows just how to go about it, shown by the job he did at Lisburn Rangers.

“The Lisburn Rangers youth team won their league and went up to the top level of the National League on Saturday,” he said, “the Reserves were promoted and the first team were promoted too.

“There’s a good structure at the club there now, which I’m very pleased with. I achieved everything I set out to achieve so I suppose I was wondering where do we go now?

“Rathfriland though have a real vision to go even further and hopefully I can deliver that for them.

“If I don’t, it certainly won’t be for a lack of trying. I’ll be putting in plenty of hard work in.”

Rathfriland have had their fair share of managerial upheaval in recent seasons, through one reason or another.

Kirk, however, has a track record of sticking around. After his long spell at Distillery, he actually led Lisburn Rangers to two promotions in three seasons until leaving last week.

Success is something he is used to, and under Sterritt, that was a characteristic being quickly installed into the DNA of Rathfriland Rangers.

The club have just picked up their first league title in 17 seasons. Unsurprisingly, that is filling Kirk with all the optimism he needs.

“Somebody asked me when I took over what I know about the squad. I know they’re champions. That tells me everything,” he said.

Champions they are but winning the second tier of the Amateur League, they are hoping, will only prove a springboard to even greater success in the years to come.

One thing is for certain, neither the club or the manager are going into the Premier League simply to survive.