What a Super Saturday we have just witnessed. Glentoran won the Irish cup on Friday and within 24 hours, Linfield signed one of their prized assets. I use the analogy of ‘be good and I will promise you an extra bar of chocolate in your lunch box’. This is the height of some players within the Irish League that have no morals, but just will jump from one club to another, as long as the colour of the extra pound is correct. Still waiting for some of these superstars to be nominated for the Ballon d’Or
This brings me to Super Saturday and the clubs with the money have started to announce the signings thick and fast. The Blues, then the Glens, and then Larne all got in on the action. Clubs were all fighting over the European money not too long ago, but trust me, without fans coming through the turnstile soon, this will be a regular thing. How can clubs survive?
Linfield started Saturday morning straight out the blocks. It was like a kid lending a toy to his friend and taking it straight back off him. The Glens won the Irish Cup on Friday night and first thing Saturday, the Blues took the limelight straight back off them. Wonderful from the Blues because maybe this will rekindle the big two rivalry that the Glens fans have forgotten about in their pursuit of the Crues.
The Blues announced no fewer than four signings on Saturday morning, two of them coming from their East Belfast rivals. Conor Pepper was the first to be announced – no surprise as I was reporting this a few weeks back. Then we had the announcement of Coleraine stopper Chris Johns – again, no surprise as this has been well rumoured for a few weeks. David Healy also pulled off another good signing, with French forward Christy Manzinga signing from Motherwell. I don’t know much about him, but I am sure they have done their homework.
But the killer blow for me was the signing of Navid Nasseri from the Glens. The little Iranian was brought into Irish League football by Mick McDermott and he had been on the books at Gillingham but was not getting the game time he needed. Only last week rumours were rife that he was about to sign for the Blues as he was wanting some European football. This is interesting coming from a player that couldn’t break the lower leagues of England. Personally, I remember when the Glens qualified and McDermott gave his warrior speech, “remember where we came from, we came from here – to here. We are the Irish Cup champions”.
Seems Nasseri either didn’t get the message or didn’t understand that the Glens had also just qualified for Europe. He went back into the corridors of Windsor and right into the manager’s office and signed for the Linfield. Now McDermott has every right to be unhappy, but welcome to the Irish league, McDermott – players will always be looking for the extra pound.
Leaving the Blues over the last few weeks has been Joel Cooper and Daniel Reynolds. Cooper has signed for Oxford United which is well overdue and he will be an excellent acquisition to the United team. Reynolds has made a permanent move to Carrick Rangers after a short time on loan to them last season.
Away from the movers at the Oval after Friday night’s Irish Cup win, Glentoran were quick to announce the signing of three players themselves. No big surprises here either, with Luke McCullough moving back to Northern Ireland after spending last season with Tranmere Rovers. McCullough also has six full Northern Ireland international cap to his name.
Also joining him at the Oval will be Jamie McDonagh as the midfielder signs on from Derry City. He’s a player the Crues have been looking at over the last season or two, but the climate and money within the league has changed. The Glens got this deal over the line early.
The final piece of business for what was a frantic Saturday was the capture of goalkeeper Rory Brown from Institute. Brown was part of the Institute team that got relegated last season, but despite that, the young keeper had a good season. He has got the quality to be a good goalkeeper that has also seen him claim international caps for the Republic of Ireland at junior level.
So let’s move away from the Big spenders in Belfast and look at the other movements around the game. For me, the signing of Saturday came at Inver Park as Larne made a move and brought Ronan Hale on board after he was released by St Pats Athletic. Hale had a brief spell with the Crues, who really didn’t give the talented forward a chance. Not many do get a chance at Seaview when the main striker Jordon Owens will always get a start ahead of anyone. Larne will suit Hale, and personally, I can see him and Johnny McMurray becoming a very lethal strike force.
Crusaders announced that Ronan’s brother Rory would be staying at Seaview for another three years. That for me is a great piece of business. But on the bad business side of life, they still have players on the transfer list that don’t seem to be going anywhere soon. That says a lot about them. I don’t think you will see anyone new through the door at Seaview, but I personally hope to see the squad cut. The number of squad changes last season and the season before killed the team. Consistency is the name of the game here.
The League runners-up Coleraine announced the signing of Curtis Allen from the Glens. It has been no surprise this move would happen. For personal reasons, it works for Allen. He had some sort of fall out with McDermott, maybe due to the training hours that he was wanting the players to put it. Pity that as Allen was a good servant for the Glens.
Cliftonville announced their first signing of the transfer window by bringing in Ryan O’Reilly from Ballinamallard United. Leaving the Reds was long time servant Stephen Garrett. He has parted ways with the North Belfast outfit to take up a player-coach role at Knockbreda.
Portadown moved last week to bring in young goalkeeper Scott Pengelly who had a spell at Fleetwood Town last season. He has also been capped at junior level for Northern Ireland, another player coming in from the lower English leagues. Keep an eye out, he might be looking for some European football next season.
Carrick Rangers have been hard at it again this week getting players in and tied down. Josh McGreevy, Daniel Magill, Mark Carson, and Jamie Dunne down have all agreed to stay. Moving across to Carrick was Daniel Reynolds from Linfield and striker Joe Tully from Larne.
Last but not least, the team that can count themselves lucky they are not in a relegation playoff with the team that came second in the Championship, Warrenpoint Town. They have added Irish defender Stephen Bell to their ranks.
What a few days it has been and after the lockdown and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been one weekend not to forget within the crazy Danske Bank Premiership.