So as tends to happen to happen at this time a brief look at some of the things that have sprung out of the Irish League this season so far. It is not a club by club review but more what has come to attention – so don’t be upset if your club doesn’t get a mention – it might actually be a good thing.
TV: Fridays on BBC 2
Very much the highest visibility offering the game has had for quite a while. Filling the void left by Ulster Rugby leaving terrestrial TV and who were probably glad to get a break from local exposure, by and large, the games have had goals, drama and interest. The problem for me is the BBC doesn’t quite know how to package it and you see yourself getting drawn into some musty office inside Ormeau Avenue where some remote producer wonders how to ‘market‘ it best.
Hence heavily ‘accented’ trailers highlighting differentiation from football across the water and the sense of ‘please like it’. My difficulty is the premise that English football is the default setting for watchers and anything else must be measured off it. It smacks of thinking Irish League fans suffer from the hang-ups the way the BBC does. No chance and if we are going to be patronised it will not be by the BBC. It’s part-time football for goodness sake being put on TV which is rare enough – no more, no less. Just show the game but this is the corporation who are showing a film of ‘neglectful’ working mothers in the name of ‘oneness’. Spare me. Best thing about it is Chris Morgan who talks more sense in 90 minutes than your average politician does in his career.
Perhaps topical and he needs to continue this current sparkle but well done to the lad who has done himself no end of good with the effort needed to get back to the player he can be. There are few players like him here and he is capable of some wonderful stuff with his feet. Not too many of us expected him to be a shining bauble on the Irish League Christmas tree a few months ago.
Barry Gray v Cliftonville
This is perhaps not just a feature of this season but a continuation from last season to a degree. Perhaps the Irish League’s Mourinho, the periodic ‘Gray blasting’ of the team from the architect on the touchline is amusing to onlookers as the Reds let their manager down every now and again. There is no wrong nor right here and the team are doing not too badly but we all cower a bit when we hear of another Cliftonville shocker.
Or ‘Ballymeana’ as they certainly mean business this time. The league has been well documented as being ultra-competitive and that reinforces every week as we on OTT get rumbled every week on our forecasts. Ballymena’s place at the top of the table is as good a logo for this as anything and something else I feel should be written here is David Jeffrey showing he can do it away from Linfield. They may not win the league but they are the most together side I have seen this season in what was a surgically constructed team designed to play a certain way. That is not an easy thing to do in this league and they are one refreshing breath of County Antrim air.
A26 role reversal
Perhaps it could be said that Coleraine have exchanged profiles with Ballymena this season. A bit of a stretch possibly but a consideration nevertheless. Oran Kearney left these shores with all our best wishes but certainly, the ‘Coleraine express’ has not managed the points on the line or those available just as sweetly as last season. Plenty has been pondered on this in the local media, but for many punters, one doesn’t hear that triumvirate of McAuley, McGonigle or Harkin being mentioned just as often as they seemed to be last year. The team won’t be down for long.
Sore on the Shore Road
Likewise the tide has stayed out longer down Crusaders way and occasional Irish League watchers who check in find this a talking point. Now they possibly hit top form rather than probably. The goals conceded column has your eyebrows climbing and like the team just mentioned they should sort it out but perhaps not this season.
No doubt the good man cringes every time attention is drawn to his age though to be fair, scribes who do this are painting him in a favourable light due to his managerial skills down Carlingford way. Whatever, it’s been a feature this season. Warrenpoint Town are amongst the many whose competitiveness make all ends of the league interesting.
City and Arsenal
Just to undo what I said about English Premier League comparison a bit of a shout for Institute who again draw attention for their football. In a league that sometimes hasn’t the patience for midfield guile, Institute stand apart and this is not in any way relative to their perception of the size of the club. They simply play really good football. I remember watching them about four years ago losing a game four to nil or so but still playing it out and through – almost to the point of suicide. So it is a bit of a cultural thing with them. Watching them live this season they still lost – but they were the better team. That was then – they’re climbing now. Interesting team.
Never Dull at the Oval
The impression fed back to you by those who follow from afar or who periodically pop home sometimes is worth listening to for a considered view. Never the full story of course but a few vox pops heard this season have been the following.
“Who’s in charge?”
“Robbie McDaid has cut loose this season”
“Great start to the season”
“Curtis still knocking them in eh?”
“They seem to be kicking all round them”
“Not another red card – seriously”
“I thought he was a central midfielder”
“They seem easier to watch”
“Darren Murray – really?”
There have been a few others but… well, that’s plenty don’t you think?
Again not new but better. Be it studios, a range of guests, Joel Taggart’s jokes, Stephen Beacom’s questions, Pete Snodden’s enthusiasm, better insight – they work pretty well if you ask me. Personally, seeing Billy Weir being in territory he has never been in his life is highly amusing. Now would Jackie Fullerton come out of retirement to commentate on a Ballymena league decider?
The pathway continues of decent players heading east from the league. Sykes has a touch of the Gascoigne about him the way he runs with the ball and takes some hammer every week which should stand him in good stead for full-time football. The exodus had become patchy in the last decade but its regularity is a feature now. Caolan Marron next perhaps?
Wonder what we will have come May?