As the dust settles and the Lewis and Harris football league season fades into the distance, it is a fair argument to suggest that while West Side’s treble winning season – including a league title play off triumph – was the story of the season, the surprise of the season came ‘south of the border.’
Harris FC made a welcome return to the league this year after a four year spell in the senior football wilderness. There were early signs of encouragement as the curtain raiser in April away to Lochs saw them mine a league point with a score draw – their first league point since 2012.
A tough spell followed before Harris assumed the mantle of the most inform side in the league, winning seven of their last nine matches, and climbing up the pile.
But Jody Shiels isn’t satisfied with fifth place or mid table finishes, the Harris manager admits he is now eyeing breaking into the top three and returning Harris as a real force to be reckoned with.
In his opinion Harris were always going to enjoy a stellar return to the league but even he admits he was a little surprised by his side’s remarkable run late summer form.
“It was a great season and West Side and Point were the two best sides in the league but we want to be up there challenging with them,” Shiels told the Gazette.
“We want to be in the top three and that has to be our aim next season to try and improve and keep moving up.
“At the start of the season I predicted fifth place for us privately as I believed mid table was an achievable target but after five or six games I doubted myself a little bit as we struggled but in the end we probably did even better than I expected in our first-season back.
“Most people tipped us for bottom place or second bottom so to finish fifth and so strongly was really good.”
Their opening day share of the points at the Creagan Dubh was followed by a bruising encounter at Goathill in which Harris suffered a handful of injuries and Shiels says the knock on effect of impacted his side.
“The season went well. We started off with a point but in our second match against Aths we had a couple of players injured, both players were some of more experienced ones too, and that disrupted the team quite a bit,” he continued.
“After that we struggled for a while and we lost something like five or six matches in a row before our fortunes changed against Ness. The young guys kept playing their game and after not getting the breaks in the earlier games they got their breaks against Ness and we won 6-2 to really kick-start our season.”
Harris won an impressive seven of their final nine league matches to climb up the table and they picked up maximum points against every side in the league outwith the top two West Side, and Point but Shiels reckons he saw encouraging signs even in defeat against the runaway league winners.
“We won three in a row before losing to West, then we won another three in a row before West beat us again,” he explained.
“They were our bogey team and the one we couldn’t beat this year. In the last ten matches the only teams to beat us were West Side and Point and they were the only sides we didn’t beat over the course of the season too which shows our progress.
“We did play well against West Side in some of the matches and I think the pitch in Barvas suits our game more than Harris as it is bigger and the surface suits the way we play.
“Looking back to our cup semi final against them and we had a real chance to get to a cup final but West Side hammered us to be honest.
“We were 3-0 down at half time and even then we believed we could get back into it. We then missed two or three really good chances to get back into it but West Side scored more goals on the counter but they were the better team on the day.”
Despite Harris’ brilliant season, Shiels is far from satisfied nor is he sitting on his hands over the winter as he plots new additions to improve the squad even further and help restore Harris to former glories.
He added: “I want to bring in players who can play football, and want to play football with the ball at their feet. I have a few up my sleeve that I am hopeful will be part of the squad next season but I’d rather not say at the moment but we want young, hungry footballers.”