The period has well and truly set in within the Danske Bank Premiership. Just over a month into the summer break, which the powers that be want to take away. That would be interesting as the players love a summer holiday. The teams that will be involved in the Europa League playoffs are back and running, as well as Larne! Yes, Larne! All-conquering, ‘money is no object to us’ Larne. They have seen fit to start their preparation for the league early and started yesterday with a 5-0 win over Crumlin United. Will this pay off? It will be interesting to see as will the leagues so-called ‘financial fair play’ coming into action for them next year. But with everything within the league, there are people, and bright businessmen, who can work their magic to get around the wage cap.
So, Larne dispatched Crumlin United with ease yesterday. It can be said that “yes, it is only a friendly” but they fielded a strong side and put down a marker straight away. No game will be taken light-heartedly. I recall last season having my say about the results that Crusaders were producing through their pre-season. Within that was a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Larne. The response I got from a certain social media outlet was, “it is only a pre-season friendly and we did not have a full squad out”. Well, that’s why you have a pre-season. To get your best ready for the season. Start them the way you want your season to go. On the front foot! That would explain the Crues’ cold start last season. But again, it’s been a tale of too many players within the Seaview set up, and trying to get them all game time becomes a problem.
On the other pre-season front, Cliftonville and Ballymena United got their first run outs before the two clubs go into their games in the first qualifying rounds of the Europa League. Cliftonville travelled to the Brandywell and took on a very strong Derry City side and came away with a good 2-1 win. A good work out against a team that is in the middle of its season. The Reds have been drawn against Barry town from the Welsh Premier League in the first qualifying round of the Europa League. This should be a good encounter and one the Reds should go into full of confidence.
Ballymena also got their pre-season off as run out 1-0 winners on Friday against Cardiff Met who play in the Welsh Premier League. A good strong start for the Sky Blues. The Sky Blues have been drawn against NSI Runavik of the Faroe Islands in the first qualifying round of the Europa league. The Sky Blues should feel confident. The team from the Faroes are in good form at the minute. 13 games into their regular season and they are sitting second, one point off top spot. Last season they lost 12-5 on aggregate against Hibernian and in 2015 they lost to Linfield. Fingers crossed the Sky Blues can get the result needed here.
Once again, this week I will go through the main transfers that have made it to the Twitter accounts of our local clubs. Let’s be fair, our TV websites and certain tabloid papers forget to let us know that players have actually moved around within the league. Well unless your Larne! They seem to fixate on the fact that someone is pumping money into the big red gambling machine and hoping for the jackpot to drop. I wonder what Gary Hamilton’s thoughts are on it? There are other clubs out there running on pure hard graft and dedication that do not get the recognition they should.
Carrick Rangers have been hard at work in the transfer market. I have to take my hat off to Niall Currie and his backroom staff. They are giving youth a chance while blending it with experience. For me, I hope this turns out to be a good season for the East Antrim club. Mark Kelly has put pen to paper and signed for Rangers this week. The 29-year-old striker moves from relegated Ards after scoring eight goals last season. A good signing and a player that will always get goals. Another player this time that will be staying at Taylor’s Avenue is that of Caolan Loughran. He spent last season on loan at Rangers from Ballymena United and has decided to stay there on a permanent basis.
Off down the coastline to Larne. This week saw them beat Linfield to the signing of stopper Conor Mitchell from Burnley. Mitchell spent last season on loan at the Blues and I only saw him in action once myself. A lot of negative comments about his display in the Co. Antrim Shield final. Blame the weather, but Sean O’Neill was in goal at the other end and just got on with it. Maybe he will come good, but we will have to wait and see how he gets on within the Irish League’s big professional set up.
Linfield struck a deal this week to take young Portadown defender Ross Larkin to Windsor Park. A few clubs had been interested in the talented defender, but the Blues have moved swiftly to tie him down for the next few years.
Finally, for Crusaders the long-running Darren McCauley saga is over. The Crues tried to get him signed up when he left Coleraine. But McCauley wanted a fresh start and moved to Inverness. Limited game time has seen McCauley return to Northern Ireland but this time to Derry City.
I can actually report something that has been in the local papers. Michael O’Connor it seems is set to agree on terms with Scottish Championship side Dundee. I will keep an eye on how this one phases out.
We still wait with anticipation from any confirmation of the Glentoran takeover. The Glens need this sorted and so does Mick McDermott. He needs to start to build his squad for the new season sooner, rather than later to give them a good start to the season. Hopefully, this week sees the end to all the waiting for the fans and they begin to move on in the right direction.
A busy week for some as they get themselves back in the groove. As for the rest, Portrush it is for a few weeks of sun, sea, sand and a little windburn. Have a good week everyone!