Kevin McArdle in his days with Rock Celtic. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
It’s been a whirlwind three years for Dundalk’s Kevin McArdle. Since signing for Newry City in January 2016, he has won three promotions on the trot and following the Down club’s recent play-off triumph victory over Carrick Rangers, McArdle will line-out in the Irish Premiership next season.
Six years since the club was put out of football, they have climbed four divisions in five seasons to reclaim their place, and join neighbours Warrenpoint Town, at the summit of the Northern Irish football pyramid.
“Every May we have had success since I’ve been here,” McArdle quipped when asked to put the club’s dramatic rise into words.
“When I joined, it was always whatever division we were in, that we wanted to get out of it. It was never ‘we want to go to the Premier Division’. Nobody ever said that.
“We thought it would take much longer, to be honest.”
Affectionately known as ‘the white Cafu’, after the legendary former Brazilian right-back, McArdle was not the only local to play his part in Newry’s memorable campaign, with Robert Mackin, Aaron Casey and Conor Nicholson having featured in the first-team in recent weeks.
An eight-time Irish underage international, the former Dundalk FC player left Rock Celtic for the Mid-Ulster leagues before, two title wins later, he became a Championship player this season.
Having lost four of their first six encounters this term, their top-six aspirations already looked to be on the rocks before an incredible 19-match unbeaten run catapulted them into title territory let alone a play-off place. Indeed, they pushed eventual champions Institute all the way.
Ultimately, the season came down to a two-legged tie with Carrick, where, within nine minutes, they found themselves trailing 2-0 in the first game at the Showgrounds.
“It was the worst start possible, but, as we said before the game, this was where we wanted to be whereas Carrick didn’t want to be in the relegation play-off.
“We were probably playing on that a little bit and saying that if we get the first goal that we could push on and maybe their heads would drop because I think they had only won three games all year.
“After going 2-0 down, it definitely wasn’t a good start,” he chuckled.
They fought back, however, and claimed a 3-2 win before the return fixture at Taylor’s Avenue saw them again fall a goal behind. But, once more, they battled to prevail 6-3 on aggregate.
Instrumental in Newry’s incredible upturn, McArdle, who won just about every award there was at last year’s presentation night, is one of three City players named on the East Northern Ireland junior squad for their upcoming fixture against the country’s Western selection, with the winners going on to represent the North in competition later in the year.
Life is good for Kevin McArdle and Newry City. After all, they’re ‘going up’.
Since the piece was written, Kevin has signed a new deal with Newry for next season.