Summer of cricket and tennis! The Danske Bank Premiership cannot come around quick enough for me. Next week sees the return of what will be one of the most hotly contested leagues for a few years. Linfield will be the team to beat, and will Crusaders be challenging them? One week before the league starts, they have left themselves with only one recognised striker. Looks like there will be another panic signing. Remember Rory Patterson? Not the best way to start the season. Carrick have come up and will look to be competitive but the chase will be for the European places. Can Coleraine, Cliftonville and Glenavon fend off the challenge of big-spending, big invested clubs like Larne and Glentoran? The worlds businessmen are missing a trick here not investing in this League of millions. For me, if I was Linfield or Crusaders, I would be looking over my shoulder for Larne.
Linfield are now flying the flag in the Europa League Qualifiers after defeating HB Torshavn of the Faroe Islands 1-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. Andrew Waterworth was once again the hero for the Blues as he was the solitary goal scorer on the night. The win sees the Blues on the end of a £1 million windfall.
Next up for the Blues will be a trip to Montenegro to face FK Sutijeska. Heard a few grumblings about the travel? I myself was in Montenegro only a few summers ago and it is not that much of a travel nightmare. The weather will be a big problem for the Blues. Right bang in the middle of their summer and with soaring temperatures the boys from Belfast will need to have packed plenty of sunscreens.
Crusaders welcomed Wolverhampton Wanderers for a night that will never be forgotten on the Shore Road. The Wolves players and officials were first class, top pros taking time and interacting with the fans. Big thanks have to go to Wolves and there travelling support for what was a brilliant night. Even if the scoreline wasn’t. The Crues started well enough but ended up on the wrong side of a 4-1 defeat.
I have said this before, but the Crues cannot go up against quality teams and just pump the ball forward. Too many times from the back, Sean O’Neill would rather lump the ball forward instead of looking a defender to start and play. The ball just kept coming back time and time again. Joao Moutinho was just world-class in the middle of the park, and his technical ability was something else. The Crues’ midfield just couldn’t cope with him.
Around the houses this week:
Ballymena United are ready for the league season ahead. Their final friendly of the season saw them put nine past Dervock in a 9-1 win. Going out the door this week at the Showgrounds was Thomas McDermott. This big stopper has been granted permission to chat to clubs interested in signing him.
Dungannon Swifts finished off their pre-season with a 4-1 away win to Dollingstown. Coming into the club this week is Linfield striker Ryan Strain on a season loan. Leaving the club this week has been David Armstrong by mutual consent.
Institute this week parted company with their manager John Quigg. Quigg has not been in the seat that long and has now parted company with the club. The timing of this means that with no manager they are a car crash waiting to happen.
Larne look the team to beat behind Linfield after what can only be described as one of the best pre-seasons of all the Irish League Clubs. Their final two pre-season games resulted in 12 goals scored without reply. With Larne kicking off at home to Warrenpoint Town, then away to Carrick, then home to Ballymena. Before they travel to Seaview to face Crusaders they could have nine points on the board.
Glenavon finished their pre-season with a 7-1 win over Glebe Rangers. Good news for Gary Hamilton this week was the contract extensions of two players that were out on loan last season. Jack O’Mahony signed a 3-year extension and Paddy Burns a 2-year extension. As reported last week Tommy Cooney has not signed for Glenavon but has taken up the offer of full-time football in Sweden. He had told Hamilton if the offer of full-time football came up, he would jump at it.
Newly promoted Carrick finished off their pre-season with a 3-2 win over Moyola Park. Next week they travel to Crues to kick off the season and you can be sure it will be a different Crues team than that which they matched up against a few weeks ago and beat 5-0. Contract extensions this week for Liam McAuley, Lewis Houston, and Stewart Nixon as the men from East Antrim are ready and raring to go for the new season.
Glentoran have started to build a team that will make people sit up and look. This will be a strong season for the Glens and they have added a few more new faces this week. Thomas Byrne has signed from Drogheda United and Patrick McClean from Derry City. You can expect more movement this week from the men from the East as they look to get competitive this season.
Ronan Hale has left the Crusaders. Exactly what I said would happen if he was left to sit it out on the bench. He has moved to St Pats in the league of Ireland and scored the winner on his debut. Hale is a technically gifted player and when he joined Crues I wondered why. He does not fit the style that Baxter loves. Now the Crues have been left with one striker just before the season starts. But it is all about the money that is being made around Seaview at the minute rather than what is coming next week. Jordon Owens cannot lead the line all season. Personally, I think the only option the Crues have left is to sign a striker who will challenge Owens. Adam Lecky fits that bill. Big, strong and will be the perfect target man for the long ball.