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City strengthen as Rambo signs up

18 May 2017

Newry City AFC manager Darren Mullen says the signing of Stephen Hughes is a ‘big statement’ from the club as they prepare for life in the Championship next season.

City snapped up ‘Rambo’ after the attacker left Portadown following their relegation from the Premiership and the 30-year-old adds to an already strong squad that swept past Armagh City to gain promotion from the Premier Intermediate League.  

Hughes, who played for the City before the club folded in 2012, also links up with his brother Mark after both played for Warrenpoint Town in their three seasons in the Premiership.   

“At this level, you need to move quickly and once we heard Rambo was leaving Portadown, we spoke to him and he as only too happy to come back to his hometown club, to play along with his brother and the other lads that he has played alongside in the past,” explained Mullen.  

“We need to bring in that extra bit of quality the higher we go and he certainly fits the bill. He’s a super footballer and one of the best players we had at the club when it was wound up. So to get him back is a big coup for us.”

While the City manager aims to add at least two more signings over the next few weeks, he says there won’t be a plethora of changes in the playing staff for the new campaign. 

“There won’t be a multitude of players coming in and those that come in have to be of a certain standard to play this level of football, should that be through their previous experience or what I feel is the potential to play this level of football,” he said.  

“We’ll add to the squad over the coming weeks to make sure we’re prepared for pre-season, but to have Rambo in as our first signing is a big statement from the club and that can only help the players that are here already and the new players that are coming in.” 

Newry’s meteoric rise through the leagues since their reformation – with three promotions in four seasons – has coincided with players coming and going at the club as they strengthen with every new league they participate in. 

However, as Mullen explained, Newry are now an attractive proposition for potential new signings compared to what they 

might have been in the previous years. 

“The difference now is that you don’t have to chase players as much as what we had to do at the start. Players are now coming to us looking to sign for the club, which is a good sign of how the club is progressing,” he said.  

“I think we’ve got to the stage where we can pick and choose who we need and we have to be faithful to the lads who have got us up to this level because as we saw against Armagh City, we didn’t just scrape through the play-off, we beat them really well. 

“If we can perform like that with the players we have and add that bit of extra quality that Rambo and a few others possibly coming in will bring, we want to go in and hold our own and see where it takes us,” Mullen added.  

Given how quickly Newry have returned to the league they played in whenever the club folded less than five years ago, many will see them as one of the favourites to go even further in the near future. 

However, for Mullen it’s a case of suck it and see and he’s keen to manage expectations for the forthcoming season.   

“We need to go in and consolidate. That was the aim this season because we were going into the unknown and it’s the same again next season. But we’ll be going in with the same mindset – with no fear and to go and enjoy it. Because of how far the club had fallen, we needed to go out and enjoy our football. Never mind the players, but the coaching staff and everybody involved in the club, you can see the enjoyment in it,” he admits. 

“We’ll go in and get our tactics right and do our research on other clubs. Although we don’t know some of the teams we’re going to be playing against, on the flip side of that, they don’t know what we’re like and they may well be surprised. 

“There won’t be any bold statements about what we’re going to do next season. The aim of the club is always to get back to the Premiership, how long that will take, we don’t know, but we’re certainly on the right road and we’re going to go in and enjoy Championship football again.”     

As for Hughes himself, having been part of sides that have been relegated in the last two seasons (Warrenpoint and Portadown), he wants to be playing for a club at the top end of the table.    

 “It was an easy decision to make. I know a lot of the boys that are here, as I played with them the last time I was at the club and then there’s my brother Mark as well. 

“I was down watching the two play-off games and I just needed a change. The last two seasons have been tough, playing at the bottom end of the league. Newry are going in the right direction so hopefully we’ll be challenging at the right end of the table,” said Hughes, who feels Newry will be able to hold their own in the second tier.  

“I played against a couple of Championship teams for Portadown in the Irish Cup and, to be honest, having seen the way Newry played in the play-off, I don’t think there is that much of a jump from the Premier Intermediate League to the Championship in comparison to going from the Championship to the Premiership. With another couple of signings, I think we’ll be competitive.

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