The fighting is over, the league has been called. European places were delivered and with just the little matter of the Irish Cup to finish, the Danske Bank Premiership clubs can now begin preparing for the 2020/21 season, whatever shape this may take. After the shambles of sorting the final league places out, this might be another infight between clubs to decide how we go forward.
Over the next few weeks, I will try and stay away from the incompetent governing body of the league, and try and break down how the clubs are planning ahead with news on transfers rumours and departures.
Let’s start the journey around the clubs and why not start with Carrick Rangers. What a season they have had, and on a shoestring budget no less. Niall Currie has proven himself to be a quality manager. Even with the premature end to the season, the men from Carrick sat in eighth position on 32 points, well clear from the bottom-placed clubs. What a great effort from the club. Currie has now been working hard to tie down the majority of his squad that did so well last season – why wouldn’t he?
Experienced players Kyle Cherry and Aaron Hogg have penned new contracts. Further to that, Daniel Kelly has signed a new long-term four-year contract with the club. Reece Neale has committed for another two seasons, while Lee Chapman and Chris Rodgers put pen to further one-year deals. For me, the big one was tying down Lloyd Anderson for another year. The youngster has been impressive after his move from Crusaders. I still don’t understand why the Crues let him go, but his drive in the middle of the park is not really in the Crues’ philosophy of football.
Leaving Carrick will be Wille Faulkner. The Newtownabbey lad has not been offered a new contract and will be on the lookout for a new club over the next few weeks. Anyone from Ballyclare reading? This may be one for consideration.
The Champions Linfield will be a hard team to break again this season. They have just had confirmation of the UEFA Champions League preliminary round semi-finals: a one-off game which will see them play a team from San Marino in Lyon on the 8th August 2020. The opponent is still unknown.
Before the league had even started the Blues were hard at it, tying down players for the season ahead. Mark Stafford, Daniel Kearns, and Shayne Lavery all signed new contracts. But leaving the Blues were loanees Rory Currie and the impressive Rohan Ferguson. The latter went back to his parent club Motherwell and was then subsequently released.
Departing the Blues was Josh Robinson and Chris Casement. Robinson has now signed for Larne after he couldn’t agree to a new improved contract with the Blues. Once again Larne are showing they are working on the market value when it comes to signing players. Interesting when the biggest club in the county can’t tie down a player on an improved contract.
Coleraine have also been busy making sure they sign up as much of their squad as possible for the season ahead. What a return it has been for Oran Kearney. Back from his stint with St Mirren to bring the league cup, European football, and second place in the league. Arguably he is the manager of the season for me, and he still has the opportunity to capture the Irish Cup.
Three of their most influential players have signed new contracts and for me, that is great business all round. Eoin Bradley, Ian Parkhill, and the evergreen Stephen Lowry have all committed to the season ahead. I see a big season ahead for the Bannsiders and with a few acquisitions, they are going to be the team to beat. Departing the Bannsiders will be Matthew Fitzpatrick who has signed for Glenavon.
Crusaders! Well, where do I start with this one? The big project has failed due to them not qualifying for Europe. Yes, they can do it if the Bannsiders win the Irish Cup, but they should have done it themselves by the league standing or winning the Irish Cup. However, players are now being put on the transfer list and in this climate, who actually has money to buy mid-table players? Kyle Owens and Matthew Snoddy have both been put on the list. Sean Ward has departed to Glenavon, and Cameron Dummigan has gone back to Dundalk – a player I am sure the Crues (if they had the European money) would have signed. But we will stick with the over 30 squad.
Rumours are that Howard Beverland will be the next out the door. You must wonder where this will end? Who, if anyone, is coming in? This ageing squad needs fresh blood! They have started to use social media again to publicise the great Sunday Carvery. How about reporting on the team and where they are at the minute? Or maybe what the management teams’ thoughts for the season are and what their direction is? Or is it still route one?
Away from players signing and departing, we have seen two managers earning contract extensions. Ballymena United’s David Jeffery and Dungannon Swifts’ Kris Lindsay have both signed on for another few years. Great news for the clubs involved.
Newly promoted Portadown have started to mould their team for the season ahead. Doesn’t it sound good? The Ports are back and the league needs a good strong Ports outfit. Good luck to Matthew Tipton and his managerial team.
They have been strengthened with the signing of Barry McKeown from Newry City on a two-year contract. Also following McKeown in the door is Ruairi Croskery. Croskery has returned from America where he was playing college football. That is definitely football without a helmet. Other players signing new contracts and committing to the Ports are Greg Hall, Callum McVeigh, Paddy McNally, Conall McGranides, Stephen Murray, Christopher Crane, Chris Lavery, Stephen Teggart, and Adam McCallum.
Glentoran have been pretty quiet at the minute, but then they have full focus on the Irish Cup. Winning that will give them access to European football and the dividends the owner needs. Leaving the Glens is the talented 16-year-old Charlie Lindsay, who will be making the short trip across the water to Glasgow to join Rangers.
Glenavon have further strengthened their squad with the signing of Sean Ward from the Crues, Matthew Fitzpatrick from the Bannsiders, and Peter Campbell from Loughgall. Signing contract extensions at the club are Jack O’Mahony, Robbie Norton, Ross Hunter, and Oisin Barr. The big talking point from Lurgan is the Josh Daniels will he, won’t he. Where will he be playing football next season? If I was a betting man, it will be one of the big invested teams who will get his signature. Money is starting to talk in this league with very little profit, if any.
Talking about teams with the investment. I will move onto Larne. Josh Robinson has signed for them which I am sure was a lucrative deal to tease him there. Signing on for another season are Conor McHendry and the evergreen Albert Watson. Departing the Inver Reds are Pablo Andrade, Joe Tully, Cillin Gilmor, and Chris Ramsey.
Last but not least, Warrenpoint Town. Manager Barry Gray has signed a contract extension for another two years – that will give the club a little bit of stability. Further contract extensions were also given to Gabriel Save, Matthew Lynch, Fra McCaffery, and Col Deasy. Departing Point are Gavin Smith, Deane Watter, Emmett Bennett, Ciaran McCann, and Mark McKee. Also coming in the door are Colm Carney and Luke Gallagher.
Clubs are planning for the season ahead. It is also very clear that certain clubs are clearly waiting to see who gets that all-important third European place to decide if they can bring players in, or if they will have to release. Wouldn’t it be great to see some clubs nurture natural talent instead of continuously paying wages to players that have had their time in the big league? This will be an interesting season ahead.