After a year and a bit out of the dugout, Jason Gibson is back where he’s happiest again.
Gibson stepped down as Swilly Rovers manager at the end of the 2015/16 season and looked set to pursue a career at administrative level.
While he joined the executive committee of the Ulster Senior League, as the fixtures secretary and registrar during his time out of management, the lure of the technical area proved too strong.
In the summer, Gibson took the reigns at Bonagee United and it has been a journey of progress so far.
A League Cup semi-final berth has been secured and next weekend Bonagee will host Munster Senior League outfit Midleton at Dry Arch Park.
First, however, they head for Leckview Park on Sunday and a derby date with old foes and the Four Lanterns Ulster Senior League’s in-form side, Letterkenny Rovers.
“This will be a different test again, but we’re looking forward to it,” Gibson, whose own side has three wins from four in the League, says.
“We’ll learn on Sunday again, win, lose or draw. Whatever happens, we’ll take it and learn for the next game.
“They’ve hit the ground running and they’re the form team, but it’s our turn to try and do something on Sunday.”
Last month, Bonagee went down narrowly to champions Cockhill on a day when Laurence Toland – who Gibson managed at Swilly – hit the only goal of the game.
It was the sole blot on the copybook so far.
That they agonised over missed chances that afternoon and left Dry Arch Park wondering ‘what if’ was perhaps their biggest sign of progress yet – even if it was a defeat.
“We’ve said all along that we wanted to gauge ourselves against Cockhill and Letterkenny,” Gibson says.
“Cockhill were delighted to come out of the game. We could have got something out of the Cockhill one and could maybe have won it, so I don’t think we’re too far away.
“We’re having a decent season.
“We’re further ahead. We have loads of experienced players, we just don’t have an experienced team.
Playing in games like that Cockhill game will bring us on. The likes of Letterkenny and Cockhill have played so many of those games over the last few years. For us, the collective hasn’t played in many games like that.
“We learned a lot against Cockhill – especially in terms of taking chances.
“The ratio has to be way better in games of this nature. That was the disappointing thing against Cockhill. Goals dictate games and you have to take your chances.”
Bonagee have the likes of Sean Patton, Michael Funston and Tommy McMonagle, who have all played in the League of Ireland. Other new recruits like Darren McFadden and Garbhan Grant have impacted well and given the mainstays some new life.
Rovers have shaken their heads clear form the disappointment of last season, though, and have maximum points from their opening five League outings – including a 1-0 win at Cockhill on Sunday. Jonny Bonner’s goal may yet prove a defining moment in the season.
Gibson believes Rovers have an edge when it comes to their side.
“Their new players, the likes of Lee (Toland), Jonny (Bonner) and BJ (Banda), have all been there before,” observes Gibson.
“But our’s has been major surgery. We know that they’re further down the road than we are. They know themselves week-in, week-out, whereas we’re still learning wee bits and pieces.”
With coach Paul Higgins and assistant manager Michael McHugh with him in the dug-out, the Manor man has come back to the fold refreshed. Gibson cut his managerial teeth with his native Lagan Harps, who he guided back to the Premier Division of the Donegal League.
Having won two Knockalla Caravans Senior Cups at Swilly, the long-term goal will be to bring some much-sought success to Bonagee.
“I’ve loved it so far,” he says.
“That’s a credit to the players, Michael and Paul. I only met Paul three months ago, but we’ve worked well and his training is excellent.
“I don’t let too much faze me. We’ll win, we’ll lose and we’ll draw, but it’s just about moving on from the game and taking whatever it is into the next one.
“Everyone to a man has been exceptional. We’re into a League Cup semi-final, into the next round of the Intermediate Cup and have a home tie in that and we’ve won three out of four in the League.
“The players are enjoying it. Football has to be enjoyable. Numbers are great. I’m not talking about 1 to 11. We have 19 players signed and other than work or something like that, everyone is there Tuesday and Thursday.”
Four Lanterns Ulster Senior League
Cockhill Celtic 0 Letterkenny Rovers 1
Derry City Reserves 0 Swilly Rovers 1
Fanad United 1 Bonagee United 3
Four Lanterns Ulster Senior League
Sunday, November 18
Cockhill Celtic v Derry City Reserves
Letterkenny Rovers v Bonagee United
Fanad United v Finn Harps Reserves