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Ronnie McFall is urging Portadown to dismiss discipline issues

By Stuart McKinley

Published 04/08/2015

Marching orders: Darren Murray, who has handed in a transfer request amid interest from Cliftonville, is sent off for Portadown last season
Marching orders: Darren Murray, who has handed in a transfer request amid interest from Cliftonville, is sent off for Portadown last season

The only red Ronnie McFall wants to see this season is the kit that his Portadown team play in.

As Europe's longest-serving manager, McFall thought he had seen it all in almost 29 years at the helm at Shamrock Park - until last season.

Portadown's title challenge faltered after the turn of the year and McFall puts it down to poor discipline within his ranks - something which he is demanding improves as the new campaign looms.

The Ports' red card count ran into double figures, with the team reduced to nine men on a couple of occasions along the way.

Inevitably, the suspensions took their toll and there wasn't even European football to soften the blow of finishing fourth in the league for a team that had set their sights on lifting the Gibson Cup at the start of the season.

That is the target for McFall once again, but he knows that staying in referees' good books rather than being in their note books is key to achieving that ambition.

"Our discipline was shocking last year," said McFall, whose team have been handed a tough opening game away to defending champions Crusaders.

"I lost count of how many red cards we had and it had a big impact on our season.

"We lost key players during matches and then had them sitting out suspended, which with a small squad hurts you very quickly.

"We can't afford to have that happen again.

"I have no doubt that if we can keep everyone fit and available that we'll be in there challenging, but having all our players on the pitch is key to that."

McFall will attack the 2015-16 campaign with virtually the same squad as last season.

The only new face to arrive is Mark Carson from Loughgall, while nobody has left the club - so far, at least.

Striker Darren Murray has slapped in a transfer request, with Cliftonville wanting him to replace Joe Gormley, who has moved to Peterborough United.

The Ports have said no, but that is unlikely to be the end of the matter, with almost a full month of the transfer window left to run.

"Darren wants to go - and he has made that abundantly clear. We don't want him to go and that's where we are at the minute," said McFall.

"He's 23 and I don't see anyone better around.

"He's over six feet tall, he has a good touch, he scores goals and he can link the play, so he's an important player for us which is why we don't want him to leave.

"As far as what might happen between now and the end of the month, when the transfer window closes, I don't know.

"Cliftonville and Linfield have been in for him, as have Derry City, but no offers have come to me."

If the Ports are to get their hands on the league title, McFall knows that they face familiar opposition.

"I don't see much changing. Crusaders and Linfield will be the main contenders again and outside of that the rest of the league will be very competitive," said McFall.

"When you've to play each other three times before the split it makes it a tight league."

PORTADOWN

Manager: Ronnie McFall

Captain: Keith O'Hara

Key Man: Keith O'Hara

Big arrival: Nobody of any significance

Big loss: None of those who have left are a big loss

Last season: Fourth in Premiership and Irish Cup runners-up

Ins: Mark Carson (Loughgall)

Outs: James Begley (Newington YC), Paul McElroy (Dungannon Swifts), Elliot McKim (Donegal Celtic).

Verdict: Capable of being title contenders if they can avoid injuries and suspensions

Belfast Telegraph

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