Good pals: Hitchin Town boss Mark Burke and Stotfold supremo Brett Donnelly - friendship, respect and a burning desire to win

By Layth Yousif

24th Jul 2022 | Local News

Good pals: Hitchin Town boss Mark Burke and Stotfold supremo Brett Donnelly - friendship, respect and a desire to win

One of the satisfying features of the pre-season local derby between Hitchin Town and Stotfold this weekend was the unrelenting desire to win from both sides.

The Canaries eventually emerged victorious after a hard-fought summer game on a hard pitch, following the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the UK earlier this week.

PICTURE CAPTION: Hitchin Town beat Stotfold 2-1 on Saturday. CREDIT: PETER ELSE (ALSO MAIN STORY PICTURE)

While Mark Burke's Step 3 side beat Brett Donnelly's Stotfold 2-1 on Saturday, it was heartening to see no quarter asked for, or given, between the teams. This stems from the rivalry between the two managers - who are great friends off the pitch.

Donnelly is well known to Hitchin fans after his spells at Fishponds Road - including as Burkey's No2 prior to assuming the mantle at New Roker Park.

The 40-year-old exceeded expectations in his first year as boss after leading Stotfold to a stellar promotion and silverware-laden season during the 2021-22 campaign.

Thanks to their consistently impressive showing last year, Stotfold will now ply their trade at Step 5 - after comprehensively sweeping away all who came at them last term. And despite the Canaries victory, Donnelly is relishing the start of the new season in earnest.

Speaking after the game in the company of great mate 'Burkey,' Donnelly reflected: "I thought we matched them for large parts of the game.

"We've got some good, honest blokes that run around and do what I want them to do. I'm pleased with the work ethic and work rate they show.

"If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out - but today I thought we did more than enough to get something out of it. They are two 'Steps' above us."

Looking towards the forthcoming season Donnelly added: "I'm looking for consolidation, if we can finish in the top eight, it'll be a good season.

"There are some teams who have thrown money around so I'm looking to finish in and around the top half of the table."

A late goal by Jack Morrell sealed a hard-fought 2-1 victory for Burke's Canaries, after Donnelly's Stofold started brightly, going ahead in sixth minute when Cody Spavins free-kick was helped into the net by Jack Bradshaw to put the home side 1-0 ahead.

On a blustery afternoon Hitchin's combative Kyle Teale drilled home a low shot in the 21st minute to level the scores at 1-1. The second half was full of commitment, however, with the game set to be heading for a draw, Morrell's 82nd minute intervention won the match.

PICTURE CAPTION: Kyle Teale drills home Hitchin's equaliser. CREDIT: PETER ELSE

Burke added: "It was a really good run-out for us. I thought we started really well, thought we looked good until we had a little bit of a setback with their goal which rocked us a little bit.

"We weren't pleased with the defending of the goal - but that's something we will learn. It will help us to improve. I was pleased because we kept our composure after that and got back into the game, puling it back to 1-1.

"In the second half I was really pleased with the control we showed. We looked comfortable defensively. Pre-season isn't about results, it's about performances. There are bits and pieces we can take from that performance that we can build on.

"It breeds confidence if you are wining games - it was certainly a confidence boost for us," adding with a wry smile, "And of course, it's always nice to beat Digger."

As if to underline the friendship and respect between the two men and their teams, after their post-match media duties were completed, Burkey then handed his old pal Digger Donnelly a belated birthday present: A bottle of fizzy - and a pair of Digger's old pants found in the Top Field changing room after he left for Stotfold...

Despite the result, the bonds of friendship forged through sport for these two titans of non-league football in our area remain as strong as ever.

Burkey and Digger share a joke at the final whistle after a hard-fought game. CREDIT: @laythy29

     

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