What a week we have had, with hot topics aplenty. Transfers, pre-season, an All-Ireland League and Crusaders trying to explain to UEFA that a festival of dance has been booked at Seaview. Can we change the kick-off time, please?
Festival or Football:
I start this week with the goings on at Seaview. I sit back and say to myself “who on earth is making these crazy decisions at Seaview? That has got nothing to do with football!”
Firstly, the Crues got their opening pre-season game off and running with a solid 3-0 win over Championship side Loughall. My next point is the whole comedy show of the Crues trying to get their European fixture against B36 F.C. Torshavn of the Faroe Islands on the 11 July moved to a 1500 kick-off. This is to accommodate the music festival that has been organised at the stadium. Now taking into consideration this is not a public holiday in Northern Ireland, the Crues have shown no consideration to fans by doing this. Also, the new professional set-up they have taken on was meant to help with European football. This clearly does not with no consideration made for the fans who will generate an atmosphere and push them on in the home tie. Once again proving the importance of just qualifying for Europe and the big cheque that goes with it.
What an incentive the Crues have for beating the team from the Faroes: an away tie to Premier League outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers. But I can guarantee the only incentive that B36 need is the possibility of travelling to play a team from England’s top division. UEFA have now made the decision that the game should be played at 1800, which will help with people that have a day job and want to come and encourage their team to push on and win the tie.
All Ireland League:
Also this week, there have been rumblings of an All-Ireland League. For me, I wouldn’t mind it but it would be a hard follow week in and week out. I get the whole ’travelling miles will kill fans wanting to travel.’ But if you look at a lot of fans across the league, many already travel miles every week to watch their team play at home and away. But travelling from Londonderry to Belfast to watch your home team play every other week is a bit of a journey. The structure has not been released in full but a possible TV deal could be the financial break needed.
One major stumbling block for me will be who has overall control. We have two football associations, both of whom I am sure will want control. There have been rumours that the league will be registered in Northern Ireland. I can’t see that happening without a fight. Then we have European Qualification. Certain Irish League teams are happy making a living out of the money generated from qualification. Merge the two leagues and it will get a lot harder to qualify. So, I think for football it would be good, but there are plenty of negatives that I am sure will be put in the way to stop it. And that’s without starting to talk about the politics of it!
Is summer football the way forward? Well like it or not the clubs and the league have made their minds up and this will happen. It is no secret! For me personally, I don’t mind it if it helps with bringing more of a professional direction to the local game. But I think there are other things that are pushing it forward. I was not happy when I first heard it might be happening, due to the loss of the Boxing Day fixture. But they have come up with a cunning plan to run the season past December so that game will still go ahead. But the biggest issue I have is with the players and their mentality. Season after season we have seen not just players but managers on major European days going on holiday. The main excuse you hear is, “it’s the kids’ holidays and it’s the only time we can go on holiday as a family.” So how do they work this if we go to a summer league? If they are willing not to play a European game, and let’s be fair this is worth three figure sums to clubs, will it bother them missing two of weeks football in July? Might get a lot more red cards around July and August.
This week Warrenpoint Town started the re-build of the squad for the season with a total of four signings this week. Dermott McVeigh has signed a two-year contract with the Co. Down outfit, the centre-back making a return to the club after spending two years away on studies; Gavin Smith has signed from Dundalk junior side Muirhevamor FC. Smith was previously on the books at Dundalk. Jake O’Connor comes in from Portmarnock FC who play in the Leinster Senior League. The young centre midfielder came through the Dundalk youth system. Last but not least is forward Kaleem Simon, who has signed on the dotted line from Athlone Town.
No transfers this week at Glenavon but Gary Hamilton has been quick to tie down some of his young charges on longer contracts. Aaron Harmon, James Taylor, Jordon Jenkins, Daniel Larmour, Ross Hunter and Oisin Carr have all signed contract extensions.
It was a case of one in-one out this week for Institute. Ronan Wilson has moved on and signed for Cliftonville. Coming back to Stute is Raymond Foy.
Moving onto Cliftonville. They continued their pre-season run outs with a 1-0 away defeat to Welsh Premier league side Connah’s Quay Nomads. Don’t know how to take this result, but fingers crossed it comes together for them in their up and coming European adventure. Joining them on that adventure will be Ronan Wilson who has signed from Stute. Wilson has linked up again with manager Paddy McLaughlin.
Ballymena United also continued their preparation for their European Qualifier with a 2-1 home win against the Reds’ opponents in the first qualifying round, Barry Town of the Welsh Premier League. The Sky Blues this week also snapped up left-sided player Ross Lavery from the Reds.
Larne again this week have moved to tie down another player. This time they have loaned in Blackpool starlet and former Crusaders youth player Sean Graham. Graham is a Northern Ireland under 21 International. He comes into a very competitive Larne side.
Carrick Rangers this week continued their re-build. Not on the same power as their East Antrim neighbours, but keeping well within their budget. Mark Carson has come in form Portadown. Carson can play either right-back or right midfield.
Linfield moved this week to offer manager David Healy a two-year contract extension. Well deserved for Healy. After his first season, the Bluemen were for chasing him back down the Donegal Road, but what a difference a season has made.
Who will be the next Coleraine manager? They say there have been five interested parties. So what’s the holdup? I worry they are holding out for Oran Kearney coming home. He has been reported this week to have fallen out with the St Mirren Chairman. I hope for the fans that the board are not playing with fire. Appoint a manager and let him get his feet under the table and plan for the season ahead.