I have spent my week travelling around the world to get back home for a mini break. Asia; Middle East; Europe; I could sit and write away on delays and airport sleepovers, but on top of all that I have had to ‘hot spot’ around the world to piece together another week around the Irish League scene.
Taking nothing away from the Crusaders’ result, but Irish League teams were back on another losing streak in Europe this week. Swedish top side Malmo disposed of Ballymena, while Linfield and Cliftonville both went down to Norwegian outfits. Let’s face it, if the Crues get through to the next round they have to play Wolves… I remember Fulham away, Crues were outclassed. Wolves are some proposition and a delightful team to watch. So I wouldn’t go antagonising the Ballymena United fans just because they shipped 7-0. Twitter can be a hard world sometimes.
Firstly this week Crusaders got themselves mixed up in a “did he, didn’t he sign for us” with Josh Robinson last season. This season they have become enrolled in yet another transfer drama. A fee had allegedly been agreed between the Crues and Coleraine. 50K according to our local tabloid paper, for Jamie McGonigle, which I have been clearly reporting on for most of last season.
That is until Oran Kearney came back and had his own slant on how he wanted the transfer to go. Didn’t realise Oran was the Chairman as well as the manager, and with no European money, they just might have needed the extra cash to freshen up the squad. The top six is going to be hard to get and this is going to be one competitive season coming up. The dash for the cash will be on. A few phone calls later saw the Crues manager respecting Kearney’s wishes to give the Bannsiders time.
Kearny is now demanding a player-plus-cash deal. Must be some of the business traits he learnt while managing a full-time league team. Talks for this deal have also included discussions about Philip Lowry Yes, the Crues need to offload a few, but Lowry is a very important player at the Crues and I do wonder what Kearney is thinking.
The chance of competing at the top, still in a European competition, why would a player bang on form give that up for a move to a club on a rebuild? Big gamble to take if you ask me. The Crues have enough players sitting on the periphery of the first team which could be used. Players with little game time and really could be asked: “have they got a career at the club left”?
Straight into it and the Champions League qualifier for the champions. Linfield entertained the seasoned Champions League group qualifiers Rosenborg and went down 2-0. It is always going to be a big ask for all the Irish League clubs especially when they come up against the technically gifted teams in the opening rounds of the qualifiers. The Blues gave a good account of themselves but it just wasn’t enough. Rosenborg are no part-time outfit and have got pedigree within the European scene.
Crusaders got their first game off to a 2-0 win against B36 Tórshavn of the Faroe Islands. This has the Crues sitting in a great position to progress and get a draw away to English Premier League outfit Wolves. The Crues’ goals came from debutant Chris Hegarty and Philip Lowry. It will be interesting when Colin Coates makes himself available where he fits in. Will Baxter drop Hegarty or Beverland? For me, he should stick with them. This clean sheet is more than can be said last season, but as always Baxter will stick with what he knows best. Let’s not forget Sean Ward and Kyle Owens. How many centre Backs does one club need?
Cliftonville were on the end of a very unlucky 1-0 defeat at home to Norwegian outfit Hansgesund. The Reds gave a good account of themselves but will go into the second leg next week having to pull off what will be one hell of a turnaround. Even in defeat, the Reds look to have a strong team together for the season ahead. Definitely a team to watch.
Lambs to the slaughterhouse. What a rude awaking Ballymena United received on Tuesday night. A 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Swedish team Malmo. This was an eye-opener to the standard of top teams across Europe. And how far behind we are as a league in certain aspects. The Sky Blues for sure will have a go at the Showgrounds next week but will leave themselves vulnerable to quick incisive counter-attacks.
Linfield this week stepped into the transfer market to sign French midfielder Bastien Henry from Waterford Town. There has been a lot of good feedback about Henry and Linfield might just have made the signing of the summer. Henry was at Sheffield Wednesday, Rochdale, Carlisle and Accrington Stanley before he made the move to Waterford. David Healy this week has said, “my two central midfield players will be the most fouled in the league”. Well, David… That is Irish league football for you.
Going out the door at Windsor is Michael O’Connor. He goes in the opposite direction to Waterford. There has been much talk that he was going to be leaving the Blues and has been signed on loan till the end of the season. Well, Waterford’s season will be over soon enough and O’Connor will be back. What happens after that? It’s a case of watch this space.
Dungannon Swifts quickly snapped up Dylan King after his release from Coleraine. Not the worst move. Not the worst club to sign for either. I have a lot of respect for the Swifts. Always a hard place to go. A club that always lives within its means.
Over to the Oval. The recent investment at Glentoran had me intrigued. I went looking into this consortium and what the business plan to dig out, clean out and make Glentoran great again is. I forgot to mention the little aspect of two unknown signings. Croatian stopper Marian Antolovic and compatriot midfield man Hrvoje Plum, “can see the puns already”. Do I know much about them? No! So checking them out on YouTube lasted all of 5 seconds. That’s how much excitement they instilled. Let’s face it they might be a surprise package and fair play to them if they are.
On another positive for the Glens this week was that of John Herron signing a contract extension at the Glens. I for one think Herron is one of the best midfield men in the league. And to keep hold of him has been a shrewd piece of business at the Oval. Haven’t been able to say that much over in the East for a while. Elliot Morris also signed a new contract which will see him take up a dual role as player/goalkeeping coach.
Niall Grace has returned to Institute after a spell with Glenavon. The Derry native is happy to be playing again after having a think through his next move after last season. Also, this week Institute should get the signatures of Ruairi Harkin and Michael Kennedy.
Not on the playing side of life but the coaching, Crusaders have appointed Paul Leeman as a coach after the retirement at the end of last season of Charlie Murphy. When Leeman was let go by Glentoran I for one was straight on it more or less begging Baxter to sign him. Leeman made over 100 appearances for the Crues after the Glens released him as a player. He always gave 100% and is what you call a true professional.
On a sour note on this appointment is some of the comments from Glentoran fans on social media. Leeman is a Glentoran legend and that’s a fact. He spent 18 years at the Oval, captained the Glens and made just short of 600 appearances in the green of the team he loved. He will one day become a top quality manager and probably will jump at a chance to manage the Glens over any club. To question his integrity just says it all about some fans that follow this league. Good luck to Leeman. He has been a great servant to the league and deserves success.
A really busy week around the league and I try while on my travels to keep up to date with everything and keep an open mind to what has been happening. Feel free to follow me on twitter and let me know the burning issues you as fans have about your teams. Might be things you want off your chest. I will look at it take the views, then put them out there for everyone to comment. Enjoy your week everyone!