In May 1989, still some six months before the Berlin Wall fell, Ballymena United lifted the Irish Cup at the Oval in Belfast, Paul Hardy’s back heel accounting for Larne in the final. The Braidmen have not lifted a senior trophy since and on Saturday another manager announced his departure from the club.
Like all his predecessors since Alex McKee masterminded the cup win, Tommy Wright’s tenure at the club has ended in failure. The big ex-goalkeeper has been in charge for three seasons having previously enjoyed comparative success as manager of Limavady United. Although he cites personal concerns amongst the reasons for his resignation, the tenor betrays a disappointment with results and the conviction that he has taken the Sky Blues as far as he could.
Wright traces his disillusion to the end of February. Around Christmas Ballymena had strung together a fine run of wins and threatened to mount credible campaigns in the Irish Cup and in the league, where a strong finish might have secured Setanta Cup qualification. This threat turned out to be illusory as the side slumped back to the kind of form they had shown previously.
Wright’s departure will cause a degree of unhelpful disruption, but it may also hasten the departure of several players who are manifestly not good enough to bring the club trophies. There is no obvious replacement for the manager, although reserve manager David Dorrian has tasted title success with the second string and the Ballymena board are said to be keen on derby rivals Coleraine’s Marty Quinn.
Whoever receives this poisoned chalice will have a long and difficult task ahead of them. It seems more than probable that the twentieth anniversary of 1989’s cup win will come and go with the drought continuing.
Update: As stated in the comments section Jim Grattan was appointed as Ballymena's next manager. Alas it seems he will not be able to retain this position.