I’ll wager there aren’t too many Leroys knocking around Northern Ireland never mind the Irish League. For his name alone he gets to be the subject of this week’s Player Watch. As the late, great Scottish rugby commentator Bill McLaren would have said he is a ‘solid citizen’. He certainly adds some ‘oomph’ to the Ballymena United midfield where he lined up on the left of the inner central midfield with Stephen McCullough to his left and James Knowles to his right.
However, his left foot was fairly busy in the early stages putting in a deep and accurate cross from the deep right to his towering centre-forward Adam Lecky whose header was acrobatically bicycle – kicked off the line by a Glentoran player. He also is in charge of the corner kicks and it was that left foot again that enabled another header to set up ex-Glenman Johnny Addis to tee up and score against his old team. However, it is in midfield he is gainfully employed and I was interested to see his role in the much vaunted and presently successful 3-5-2 system that manager David Jeffrey plays.
He is very conscious whilst playing in his own half with ownership of the ball and tries to ensure he does not play fellow players into trouble. It is going forward though that sometimes faced with pass options and sometimes not, he is guilty of losing the ball with one or two cheap submissions. However, he has an athleticism and power that enables him to repair dangerous situations both of his own and other players’ making. This physicality suggests that he is the simple defensive screen and ball – winner but he is given much more licence to play beyond that.
It appeared to me that whilst he certainly does a lot of the work to enable Knowles and Winchester to arrange and create patterns of play the organisation of the team allows him to roam around. Anytime Ballymena broke into the Glentoran penalty box he was always one of the eager recipients looking for the ball. This was not at a cost to his defensive duties and more often than not he was where he should have been when Glentoran were on the front foot.
I was not surprised to see that it was him who got a shot away on the edge of the Glentoran box though he probably had more time than he realised and snatched at it leaving Elliott Morris with little to worry about. As often happens with these reviews, initial impressions get reinforced as the game goes on as he was over fast to eliminate a Glentoran attack down the left but then was guilty of a poor looped ball going nowhere. He seems to be better with the ball in fast-moving pieces of play rather than having time to think sometimes.
Nevertheless less he was highly effective in giving opposite midfielders Herron and Pepper a difficult day as he continually broke up attacks more by denying space and option. Certainly, this was the main feature of his game rather than diving into tackles though, in ironic emphasis, he could have been stronger with a tackle in the box which could have been dangerous had a decent shot been mustered by a Glentoran player. He is capable in the air as well and was able to direct passes aerially but force and speed are his main attributes. The Ballymena team have an enviable mix of ball-playing mobility, power, height and experience and he is very much the fuel that lets this all happen.
He is hard-working and one huge supporting run to provide an option for Jude Winchester illustrated his appetite for the cause. He does need to be conscious of ensuring end product to all this hard work as another aimless ball into Elliott Morris was wasteful and undoes all his effort. As the game moved to the latter stages and became more open he was very much the central midfield screen and was instrumental in ensuring Ballymena managed the game out to victory. Excellent positional awareness was augmented by directing others to be aware of possible spatial threats. He was hugely involved in one of Ballymena’s best moves of the match moving the ball on at speed to the right of the Glens’ penalty box for a shot to go in.
An underrated player as he does a lot of work to enable Ballymena to play the way they do. As mentioned, his team have an excellent mix of different strengths which leads to their present success and he is very much the glue in all this. He is a very powerful physical force in their team. When you mention physicality in a player most people think that he is hitting opposition players hard through tackles etc… but his physicality is very much in running power and ground covering which provides big questions of opposing teams as well. Interesting name, interesting player!