Aaron Harris – 150 Not out
Congratulations to Aaron Harris on completing 150 appearances for Distillery when he played against Tobermore United on 26th February 2021.
Aaron has been the Whites most loyal player since we left the Premier League at the end of 2012/13. He is the first player to reach the 150 mark in the last 13 seasons since Stuart Thompson achieved that total on 6th December 2008 (Stuart went on to make 226 appearances). That 2008/09 season also saw Andy Kilmartin reach 150 on 6th September 2008. Note that in 2011/12 two players came close with Pat McShane and Mark Cooling ending their Distillery careers with 140 appearances each.
The ‘150 Appearances’ is a wonderful achievement, bearing in mind that since relegation from the Premier Intermediate League, there has been a vast turn-a-round of playing personnel with few lasting more than a season or two. The last nine seasons have seen a 30% reduction in the number of games that the Whites have played each season. They are averaging around 30 per season compared to around 45 in the Premier League years. There have also been two Covid-curtailed seasons.
Aaron is in his 6th season at the club and although his total may not seem a lot he has actually only missed 11 games out of a possible 161 and in three of those 11 he was an unused sub.
When management team Colin McIlwaine and George O’Boyle took over Distillery in May 2016 and brought in a whole new squad of players, one of their early signings was 25-year-old midfielder Aaron Harris, who had previously played for Crusaders Reserves from 2008/09 and then Albert Foundry form 2013/14. At Crusaders he had played three times for the Northern Ireland Regions Cup team in 2010/11. When at Albert Foundry he was also a regular in Paul Kirk’s Northern Amateur Football League when they won the Britton Rosebowl three years in-a-row by beating the Scottish Amateur FA in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Aaron made his Distillery debut in the opening match of the 2016/17 season, a first round Steel & Sons Cup game at Crumlin Star on 13th August 2016. Unfortunately it was a 2-1 defeat with Aaron playing at right-midfield in the No 8 shirt that he would go on to make his own.
Aaron was a regular throughout the season, making 35 appearances and only missing two games. He scored 5 times that season. His first goal for the club was on 3rd September 2016 in the opening Premier Intermediate League fixture against Newry at New Grosvenor. The result was a 4-1 defeat though.
He also scored against Ballynure OB in a 1-0 victory on 19th November 2016 in the Intermediate Cup, and then against Dundela in a 2-2 draw in the PIL on 14th January 2017. However it was his two goals against Sport & Leisure in the PIL on 18th April 2017 which will remain in the memory.
A disastrous run of 9 games without a win from early February 2017, had seen the team plummet from 5th down to 11th with a serious chance of relegation to another dimension. So with only four matches remaining, the Whites (25 pts) travelled to Sport & Leisure Swifts (24 pts) in a ‘do-or-die’ situation. The pressure was enormous, but the team rose to the occasion and put on one of their most impressive performances of the season. Aaron put the Whites in front on 16 minutes, then further goals from Alan McMurtry (pen) and Paul Young gave a 3-0 cushion. Sport & Leisure pulled a goal back and bombarded the Whites resolute defence in the second half. Then on 75 minutes the Whites broke away and Aaron fired in his second goal to seal a crucial 4-1 victory. Four days later they beat Bangor 3-1 at home to ensure safety.
The following season, 2017/18 he again was ‘Mister Consistent’, once more only missing two games. He made 36 appearances (35 + 1 as sub) and scored 3 goals. Aaron was the Echlinville Player of the Month 3 times that season and was runner-up to Matthew Ferguson for the Echlinville Player of the Year Award. He was also the winner of LDTV Goal-of-season 17/18 — against Albert Foundry in the Irish Cup on 2-12-17.
In 2018/19, he made 32 (31+1 as sub) appearances and scored 4 goals. Then came the disruption of the two Covid-curtailed seasons – 21 (15+6 as sub) appearances and 2 goals in 2019/20 and 1 appearance in 2020/21.
This season, 2021/22, he has made 25 appearances and scored 2 goals up to 28-2-22, taking his goal tally up to 16.
Aaron is a classy, industrious midfielder, an intelligent distributor of the ball who regularly controls the midfield and a player who has scored some memorable goals for the club. He has been team captain since the 2017/18 season and sets a fine example in his leadership on the field.
So congratulations, Aaron, on your 150 appearances.
(All statistics up to 28-2-2022)