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Carrick not fazed by a tough return to the top-flight

By Stuart McKinley

The evolution of domestic football in Northern Ireland over the last 20 years has brought about great change - and like anything that goes through a transition, not every one of those changes has been for the better.

Just ask Carrick Rangers.

When promotion and relegation was introduced to Irish League football in the mid-nineties, it was sink or swim for clubs.

Carrick couldn't stay afloat among the big fish and have spent pretty much all of the last two decades trying to make a splash again as the likes of Ballinamallard United, Warrenpoint Town and even Dungannon Swifts have overtaken them and become established top-flight teams.

The east-Antrim outfit have only spent one season in the top-flight in the last 20 years and that is why they don't care that they've been chucked in at the deep end on their return to the Premiership.

Both of Belfast's Big Two will head down the M5 this week for the first senior matches to be played in Carrickfergus since 1995 - they had to groundshare with Crusaders during their brief sojourn at the top table in 2011-12 as Taylors Avenue wasn't up to standard.

Rather than worrying when the fixture list threw up a clash with Linfield in the second game of the season, swiftly followed by Glentoran, manager Gary Haveron is ready to meet the challenge head-on, with just one small regret on his mind.

"We can't complain about the fixture list when we busted our backsides all last season to get to this level and play matches like this," said Haveron.

"The Linfield game is all-ticket and it will be a sell-out.

"That means the players will be walking out in front of 2,500 people and there will be no extra motivation needed for that one.

"They didn't need a lot of motivation when they were going out to play in front of nobody against the likes of Orangefield and Newcastle last season.

"When you have players like that, you know you can rely on them when the big games come along.

"That won't stop me thinking, when I'm driving to the ground on Wednesday night, that I wish I was playing, because these are the kind of games that you always wish you were getting the boots on for.

"That ship has sailed for me, but for the boys who will be playing, they should relish these games, because they are their reward for working so hard all of last season."

Facing the Blues tonight will be a player who burst onto the scene at Windsor Park more than a decade ago with great promise.

Miguel Chines never quite fulfilled his early potential, but at the age of 35 he is back in the big time.

It is almost inevitable that questions have been asked about his ability to cut it in the Premiership, but Haveron is in no doubt and there is already evidence that the Portuguese ace can bring his goalscoring talents to the top-flight after netting twice in Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Swifts.

"Goalscorers are a rare breed and a lot of times they may not be in a game for 90 minutes. I would say even for Joe Gormley last season there were a number of games that he didn't do a lot in, but he popped up and finished teams off," said Haveron.

"Miguel scored 60 goals in the last two seasons at Championship level and there's nobody who deserves a chance in the Premiership more than him.

"He is experienced, which helps him to be cool and calm in front of goal. He's been around a long time and I am convinced that he will always score goals."

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