ANNALONG footballer, Lee Feeney is looking forward to the “big, big challenges” ahead in his new role as assistant manager at Ards.
Lee joins his cousin, Warren who was brought in as manager of the Irish Premiership side following the club's shock sacking of Colin Nixon.
Ards are facing relegation, however Lee told The Outlook he was ready for the challenge.
“They are currently bottom of the league and the two of us have a big job on our hands.
“I like challenging myself and going here is a big, big challenge,” he said.
“I am going to try and enjoy it as much as I can, but it's based on results and there is a lot at stake.”
The 40-year-old was manager at Banbridge Rangers for two years and he says this will stand him in good stead for the job at Ards.
“I thought I knew enough about football at that point, but I learnt so much so quickly,” he said.
“It is one of the best clubs I have been with. They were great people to work under on the board and committee and a great fanbase. I loved every bit of my time at Banbridge Rangers.”
Lee said one of the hardest parts of his decision to move to Ards, was leaving Annalong FC, who he has played twice in his career, firstly when he was 15.
“It was good to get back and I have really enjoyed this season.
“I have loved my time at Annalong, it's another fantastic club with fantastic people there. It was a hard decision for me to leave.”
He said having a chat with Annalong's manager, Alan Henning made it somewhat easier when he gave Lee his blessing to go.
“He is my friend and there is no animosity. He told me it was the right decision for me to make.
“The team is going really well and the club is in a good place.”
The father-of-two to Harry (8) and River (3) said he is making “big sacrifices” for the new role as living in Kilkeel means there is always a lot of travelling.
“The kids are used to having me around a lot but I grew up with football and my family has always been part of football.”
Lee started his playing career at Ards before a series of performances for Linfield earned him a move to Rangers in December 1998.
He returned to Linfield three seasons later and also played for Glenavon and Newry Town, as well as having a spell at Sligo Rovers in the League of Ireland.
Bringing a wealth of experience with him to Ards, he said he knows he and Warren will work well together.
“We are two different people and have two different approaches and voices, so we'll not agree on everything.
“I have learnt a whole lot and I have been in the Irish League for a long time, so that will help me.
“But we're both bubbly, lively and will bring energy to the changing rooms,” he said.
Annalong manager, Alan Henning said he had mixed feelings about Lee leaving the club, but ultimately wished him well.
“In one sense he is a very good friend and I am glad to see he is getting this opportunity.
“He came to the club as a favour to me. He had plenty of other opportunities when he left Banbridge Rangers. He was inundated with offers and I think everyone was really shocked when he came to Annalong.
“He did it as a challenge too for himself but he wanted to come and enjoy playing football again and he is very good at it.”
Lee went to Annalong pre-season, having played a few friendlies and then signed during the first week of the season.
“Lee has been fantastic and is an ex-professional and came with a lot both on and off the pitch,” said Alan.
“As a player on the pitch he has been really helpful and some of the younger players have tried to impress him on the pitch.
“But I have to say that he has been part of a team, everyone this season has been fantastic but he has been a factor in upping our game.”
He said that Lee was “very honest” with him about a possible move to Ards, something Alan appreciated.
“He was very honest about it. We are all behind him, but he was almost reluctant to go. He was actually disappointed that he had to leave Annalong, we are in a good place and he bonded with everyone.
“There is no doubt we wish him well. It has been a privilege to have him at the club, someone with his reputation, status and as an ex-professional.
“We are all delighted that he has been here. Personally, as a friend and as a whole team we wish him every success and hope it goes really well at Ards.”
However, Alan added there was still a chance Lee could appear again in an Annalong shirt.
“He is still a signed player and we have a cup final coming up, so we might see him again!
“I have no doubt that it will go well for him and he is welcome at Hillmount Park at any time.”