The Press York City reporter DAVE FLETT hears how a Northern Ireland Under-19 international believes the club are on the way up as he aims to put the Niall into Minstermen’s Conference coffin.
YORK City new boy Niall Henderson believes his play-off heartache with Raith Rovers three months ago could yet prove a positive experience.
Henderson feels a top-five place is within City’s grasp ahead of the 2008/9 campaign and would love a second crack at the supposed end-of-season lottery next May.
The 20-year-old midfielder was a member of the Raith team that was defeated 4-2 on aggregate by Airdrie in last season’s Scottish second division play-off semi-final.
A couple of goalkeeping clangers in the first leg at Stark’s Park, followed by a mistake by captain Iain Davison at Airdie, cost Raith dearly but Henderson insists he will be better equipped should the Minstermen match their 2006/7 exploits and battle it out with three other teams for a place in the Football League.
“Losing in the play-offs was disappointing,” Henderson admitted. “I didn’t think Airdrie were the better team but we made two bad mistakes in the first game.
“That’s in the past though and I’m looking to the future. The experience will stand me in good stead because I’ve been in that situation so that will help if we make the play-offs even though I feel we’ve got the players to go one better.”
Henderson, born in Craigavon, was on the books of Portadown in his native Northern Ireland as a youngster but moved to Gretna at the age of 16 to serve his apprenticeship.
In his four years with the border club, he witnessed at close quarters the club’s meteoric rise from the Scottish third division to the SPL.
Gretna also qualified for the UEFA Cup, courtesy of a Scottish Cup final appearance, during that time but ended last season plunging from top-flight football into administration and the non-League wilderness amid desperate financial struggles.
Nevertheless, Henderson was frustrated at only playing a peripheral part in the roller-coaster ride at Gretna, failing to play a senior game for the Anvils as he was shipped out on loan to Dumbarton before joining Raith in January.
About his tribulations with Gretna, the former Northern Ireland Under-19 international said: “I felt I would get a chance in the SPL last season but they got a lot of loan players in and it was just one of those things. There were a few clubs sniffing about at the end of the season but the gaffer’s got big plans at York and I think there’s a chance of success with the players we’ve got and those he’s brought in.”
With two fellow Irishmen in Darren Kelly and Michael Ingham at the club, as well as a former Gretna team-mate Steve Hogg, there is also little chance Henderson will get homesick for either his natural or adopted country.
He said: “I wasn’t really thinking about moving to England at the end of the season but things are going fine. English football is on the telly all the time and gets far more coverage than Scotland.
“Everybody wants to play and make it over here. It also helps having people like Michael here. I’ve been staying at the same place as him and Hoggy’s a very good friend as well.
“We played a bit together in the reserves at Gretna and he helped me join here because he had already signed for the club. I enjoy playing with him because we both like to get the ball down and pass it and get on very well. All the lads have been good though and everybody joins in.
“I left home when I was 16 so I’m used to being away. I try to get back as much as I can but, unlike in Scotland, there will be no international breaks, so I won’t get back as much. I’m sure the family will come and visit me instead.
“I want to be part of something this season. The club has had success in the past so, hopefully, we can kick on this season.”