Team of the Week: Hardworking Batley Irish Nash are making their own luck
They say it's the luck of the Irish but luck has played no part in Batley Irish Nash's recent upturn in fortunes.
Last season was one of Nash’s worst as they were rooted to the bottom of the lowest tier in the Heavy Woollen leagues, winning just one game and amassing a measly six points.
Things got so bad that they even had to declare walkovers along the way and they finished a huge 40 points off eventual champions Scholes Athletic.
But since the duo of Shaun Helliwell and Stephen Gabriel took control, hard work has seen them transformed into a side confident of achieveing promotion to the third tier.
No one could have predicted how well Nash would have bounced back from such a torrid campaign last year but they have definitely turned a corner since then.
While the league title may be beyond them as they sit in third place, 10 points off leaders Old Bank with two games in hand, second-placed Saville Arms are firmly in their sights.
Just two points behind, promotion is the clear aim at Nash with both the management team and the players firmly believing this is their year.
They were viewed as one of the weakest teams in the league last year and their miserable campaign saw them beaten heavily 9-1, 7-1 and 9-3 but that has very much changed this year.
They are now feared by their league rivals and are now one of the clubs earning the big victories with 9-1 and 12-1 wins particular highlights, as well as a 17-0 victory against basement club Shire earlier in the campaign.
Indeed, from their form this season it would be foolish to rule out a title challenge as the season reaches its climax.
Stephen Gabriel – one half of the management team that has got Nash firing – said: “We are very hopeful of promotion. We are doing well in the league at the moment so we certainly have a good chance of that.”
It’s a fairlytale rise comparable to that of Premier League Leicester City who have moved from being relegation threatened to title favourites in just 12 months.
They were bottom of England’s top flight and seven points adrift last April and are now at the other end of the table, once more seven points off the nearest side to them.
A new management team, along with some new additions to the squad seem to have been key for both Nash and the Foxes, proving that at all ends of the football pyramid anything can happen.
They even have Elliot Williams and Kyle Walker as their very own Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez with Williams bagging 14 goals and Walker 12 goals in the league this season.
However, Claudio Ranieri’s aspirations for the rest of the campaign may differ from those of Nash’s managerial duo.
Looking ahead to the future, Gabriel said: “Myself and Shaun took over this year so we’ve brought a few new players in to the club, hence why we are doing a lot better this year.
“We are both very hopeful of ending the season on a high with promotion and going on to recruit more players next year as well.”
It’s fair to say a lot has changed at Irish Nash since they burst onto the scene 10 years ago.
The side was formed when a group from the Irish club in Batley, where the team takes its name, became interested in forming a football team and wanted to enjoy playing the sport.
Captain David O’Keefe is one of the side’s longest-serving players and will be hopeful of bowing out with success when he hangs up his boots at the end of the season.
The veteran defender has been involved in the side’s highs and lows down the years, and this campaign he has netted five goals in nine appearances.
Nash have not always been scrapping in Heavy Woollen’s bottom tier as just two years ago they finished seventh in Division One, the third of five tiers.
During the four seasons between 2011 and 2014 they were above the lowest tier and looked to be going on to challenge for a spot in the top two leagues.
That dream could be re-ignited if they get promotion this year.
The side have history of silverware, lifting the Division Three title in 2011 where they won 21 of their 24 league games.
None of the original squad remains from their 2011 heroics and while with six league games remaining there is no chance of matching that achievement, there is a good feeling at Carters Playing Fields that they can gain promotion and continue to improve.
Financially, however, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
It’s where the comparison to Leicester City ends.
A number of amateur clubs have been forced to fold due to money problems and the struggle of finding players.
Nash have been fortunate enough to avoid such issues and continues to go strong, but their manager accepts how tough running a club at amateur level is.
While Leicester will pocket a nine-figure sum from their Premier League exploits this campaign, Irish Nash have had to rely on the goodwill and deep pockets of the club and it’s members to survive.
Gabriel says: “Financially, running a football club at this level, it’s very difficult.
“We are always trying to raise money in the club to finance the team. Insurance, maintenance of the ground and various other things, the costs are very high.
“So, we do as much as we can to raise money. We’ve done pretty well this year.”
For Nash, this season has certainly had more highs than lows.
Stephen Gabriel has enjoyed his role with the club so much he says there have been no low points during his spell with the team and has thoroughly enjoyed the campaign so far.
He highlights performances in the league and their chance of promotion as their best achievement this season, but also noted the Heavy Woollen Challenge Trophy semi-final where they were beaten by Rose of York last weekend.
While there will be no cup final and no chance of adding to their trophy cabinet, it’s yet more proof of how far the team has come in the last 12 months.
Whatever happens in the final league games for Irish Nash, much like Leicester, they have a lot to celebrate considering their rise from bottom of the table.
Ground: Carters Playing Fields, Batley
Division: Heavy Woollen Sunday League Division Two
Manager: Shaun Helliwell and Stephen Gabriel
Honours: Division Three (2011)
Captain: David O’Keefe