Billy Weir's brilliant new column: Why Irish League managers just right to give players a rocket
Renowned crooner, wig fancier and football fanatic Sir Elton John once warbled that 'Sorry seems to be the hardest word.' Not so if you are a local football manager it seems.
With the new season still in its embryonic stages, it appears that the summer break has continued a little too long for some players, meaning that their bombastic bosses have become, as Mr John may have put it himself, rocket men.
And proper order too, I have never understood why the poor bloke in the dug-out, desperately trying to hide inside his bench jacket, has to suffer the wrath of the revolting fans (and trust me, some are pretty revolting) while somehow players are applauded off and told 'keep your heads up, boys'.
In the past week, though, the managers have bitten back, Barry Gray wasting no time in letting the players know who the new boss is at Cliftonville.
By all accounts, and from the man himself, the Reds were rubbish up at Coleraine, Gray letting rip with 50 shades of fury after a display about as sexy as a weekend in Cullybackey, and not a cable tie anywhere to be seen.
"If it is a problem with the team - whether it be shape, formation or selection - I'll take that. I'll take full responsibility. But I won't take responsibility for the performance levels," he said, and fair dues.
When push comes to shove, it's his backside that'll be kicked down the road to the Mournes again if things don't go well, and it was good to see that his words were heeded to an extent with a draw at Ballinamallard on Saturday.
It's never an easy place to go, a cliché I know, but it isn't, especially if you go that crazy road through Fintona, however the true impact of his words may be seen this Saturday with the first real 'clinker' of the season, at home to Crusaders.
Then again, given Stephen Baxter's tongue-lashing of his own troops after their abysmal showing last weekend, it could be a case that Saturday afternoon is alright for fighting at Solitude, with the two managers having to slug it out in the centre circle with their poor, petrified players too scared to come out.
He labelled them 'prima donnas', which to most footballers will mean the era before that wee Argentinean fella with the dazzling toes, the wand of a hand and a nose for, well, um, but we'll gloss over that.
"It was a clueless performance and I'm embarrassed by it. Our supporters will feel cheated because our players have swanned about like prima donnas. I apologise to our fans because it was a load of rubbish," barked Baxter.
"We were lacklustre, lacking in ideas, no quality, no pace, no competitiveness, an absolute shambles and a disgrace," Baxter added, although this may have been a re-run of a Kit-Kat ad from bygone days and I'm getting mixed up. Still, it'll be two fingers, or four, up to any players who don't go a long way.
Of course, the common denominator in bringing misery to both sides of north Belfast, and I'm not talking about Nigel Dodds and Gerry Kelly in this instance, is Oran Kearney's Coleraine.
They would have probably got away with it if it hadn't been for those pesky Bannside kids, but they have started where they left off last season (we'll gloss over the Irish Cup Final in case I am accused of bias) with three wins from three and they are flying.
Unlike the other half of the A26ico rivalry, Ballymena United, for whom the League Cup celebrations, fourth place finish, European play-off win and subsequent trip to Denmark now seem something of a blur.
Three games in and only a solitary point on the board. The first defeat with 10 men against Crusaders was understandable, the draw at Carrick Rangers frustrating, but a 6-1 home defeat by Glenavon on Saturday - shocking, simply shocking.
At half-time, after what will not go down as the greatest half of football ever witnessed, my one word synopsis of the match on Facebook was 'brutal.'
At full-time one of the more sensible Sky Blue faithful (and there aren't many to choose from) tapped me on the shoulder and asked what I would write now. This is a family newspaper and I cannot reveal my answer but, suffice to say, it wasn't 100 per cent positive.
As David Jeffrey plonked himself down to face the press (never a pleasant task at the best of times) he looked as if he'd gone 15 rounds with Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.
As a man who made his name as a defender who would stop at nothing to stop his opponent, there is no more ardent a defender of his players, but even he reached the point on Saturday where the buck had to be passed onto them.
"As a manager you're accountable for performances and for results, and that's part and parcel, but players have got to take responsibility," he said.
"They've got to take accountability, and they are prepared very, very well, and I can't for the life of me work out how we go from the confident, hard-working and disciplined performance of the first 45 minutes to what was inept, so inept, and I can't work it out."
But he will, as will Baxter and I have no doubt that Gray, whose Warrenpoint side played some of the most attractive football I've seen in this league, will get it right too.
As Elton might have put it himself, they'll still be standing at the end of the season, but for some players it could be their swansong long before it unless digits are extracted forthwith.
Out on the wing
London calling for Paul
Fair play to David Healy for sticking to his guns and telling cheeky English clubs to do one with their frankly derisory offers for Paul Smyth.
It looks like the pint-sized forward is on his way to Queen’s Park Rangers with the magical six-figure sum likely to be achieved. Great, just what the league needs, Linfield with a big bag of cash…
Seriously though, it’s great that a local player will get his chance to make it as a pro across the water, following the likes of Gareth McAuley and Stuart Dallas, and if he does half as well as them, he’ll be doing alright.
Go west, young man
And as one young talent heads east to west London, another is going way out west with Glenavon’s Joel Cooper setting off Stateside to start college.
He’s off on a soccer (which I believe is like football but with more woooohs) scholarship at the University of New Hampshire and his wing-wizardry will hopefully get him noticed by some of the MLS teams.
It’s a far-cry from his days at Ballyclare where he was plucked up by Gary Hamilton, polished at Glenavon and on his day he was a real match-winner. Sad to see another young talent go, but let’s hope he makes it big and doesn’t come back sounding like Graeme McDowell.
The joy of six
It’s hard to believe but just three games into the new season and we have our first relegation ‘six-pointer’ as pointless Ards and Dungannon (this is a fact, not an insult) lock horns at whatever Clandeboye Park is called this week.
It was always going to be a tricky start for Colin Nixon’s men as he looks to make the squad his own, but Rodney McAree’s side looks like a team who have lost two of their most potent weapons. And, of course, they have, Andrew Mitchell and Jamie Glackin off to pastures new this season, and replacing their goals and creativity would be a problem for any team in the league, never mind one consistently being asked to punch above their weight at the top level.