The 38th and last game of the season was the last straw for Newry City who have now been relegated. They could not get the win they needed at home to out of sorts Dungannon Swifts. I am sure they will go down, regroup, and push to get themselves back to the top division. Ards who recorded a 1-1 draw will go into the Premiership play-off with in-form championship team Carrick Rangers. This will be by no means, a walk in the park for Warren Feeney’s team.
Before I round-up the last fixtures of the season can I say a big well done to everyone involved in producing a wonderful season of Irish League football. For the players, a lot of hard work goes in balancing their day jobs with family life, then putting in the hard hours on the training pitch in the evenings. No mean feat. One stat that has come from the season is that in 38 games played, goals for were 696 and goals against 696. If that isn’t value for money than what is. Ballymena United were the league’s top scorers with 80 goals. The ’leakiest’ defence was that of Warrenpoint Town conceding 79.
To the action and where to start but the Newry Showgrounds. If Newry had any chance of staying up they needed to produce a win against out of sorts Dungannon Swifts. But the Swifts’ 1-0 win was enough to send City down to the championship. The all-important goal came in the second half through the Swifts’ top marksman Paul McElroy. He picked up a shocking defensive clearance to fire home. City will need to re-group and get ready for a tough season ahead next year. It will not be plain sailing to get straight back up but I am sure they will have a good go at it.
Ards travelled to Warrenpoint and knew they only needed a point to stay safe in the Danske Bank Premiership even only for another week. That they managed to get, coming away with a 1-1 draw. They couldn’t have got off to a better start. 16-year-old debutant Jonah Heron scoring from the edge of the box. Big call from Warren Feeney to start the kid but it clearly paid off. There is still talent in the league, if you look for it and give it the chance.
‘Point put the pressure on Ards and got an equaliser in the second half. Philip Donnelly got on the end of Francis McCaffery’s shot to turn the ball into Point’s net. But Ards held on and got the much-needed point. Next up for Ards will be a two-leg play-off affair against an in-form Carrick Rangers and their old gaffer Niall Currie. This could be a fatal banana skin and has all the makings of one of the best play-offs there has been.
Glenavon secured third place ahead of Crusaders with a comfortable 4-0 home win against Cliftonville. This had ‘end of season’ written all over because both teams have already qualified for the Europa League play-off games. Two goals from Stephen Murray, one from Andy Hall (after scoring direct from a corner kick), and Ross Hunter rounding off the scoring. Cliftonville had Ryan Catney sent off, what a great end to his Reds career!
Glentoran secured seventh place and the last play-off position with a 2-0 home win against Institute. Darren Murray opened the scoring from the spot. Murray seems to have put all his past problems behind him and is happy and working well at the Oval. The second came through captain Marcus Kane. This is going to be an interesting summer for the Glens with plenty of talk of who they want to sign. But it will all be down to how much money they are willing to spend. Just remember investing in Irish League clubs isn’t investing in a multi-million-pound team in a league littered with sponsorship deals. I really hope they get it right!
Linfield travelled up north to play Coleraine in what was a typical end of season game with a 1-1 scoreline. The Blues have had a clean sweep of championships at all levels this season and it showed today with the introduction of so many young players that didn’t look out of place in the line-up. The Bannsiders took the lead through Dylan Davidson who unleashed a shot from 25 yards past Conor Mitchell in the Blues net. The Blues got level through youngster Daniel Reynolds late on. What a season, the tightest defence, 85 points on the board, and the Danske Bank Premiership to go with it. A very well done to everyone involved.
Crusaders travelled to the Ballymena showgrounds to take on Ballymena United and at last, came away with a win from the league split. Running out 3-0 winners, the Sky Blues had already confirmed the second spot and had taken the opportunity to change the team around.
The Crues have been taking the opportunity to change the team around all season and did so again today. Don’t think for one minute this is the Crues team that will turn out for the Irish Cup next week. It will be all change again. I heard a great saying this week from a pundit: “We are not a nursing home, you are not here to put your feet up and retire.” As a club, you want to win and if that means letting players go even if they have given you their all, it has to happen. Times change, players are getting better, faster and want to win more.
The goals came through Rory Patterson, Ross Clarke and Mathew Snoddy, which secured the three points for the Crues. Big summer for both teams. David Jeffrey needs to do all he can to keep a hold of his players because a lot of clubs are ready to throw silly money at players to sign them. For the Crues – players need to be released. All the talk at the minute is bringing in forward-thinking players. I am sorry, but it’s at the back where the problem is.
What a season it has been and if you follow me on twitter and have read my weekly articles, I thank you very much. Throughout the summer months I will keep you up to date with all the comings and goings. I think this is going to be an interesting few months with the Irish League players chasing big paydays.