Welders have Larne in their sights as they continue treble bid
Harland & Wolff manager Gary Smyth admits that he has occasionally thought about the feats of last season's treble winners Carrick Rangers, as his side set out to repeat them this year.
The Tillysburn Park men already have the first part of the Steel & Sons Cup / Interemediate Cup / NIFL Championship One haul in the bag... and if they can defeat league rivals Larne in the Intermediate Cup this weekend, they will keep that dream alive.
However, with the increased games comes an increased pressure as the league campaign suffers, with postponements an unavoidable consequence of any extended cup run. And therein lies the respect that Smyth and other fellow managers share for what Gary Haveron's men managed to achieve last season.
Smyth said: “It’s a massive achievement, and something I think anyone would dream of doing. I remember last season, everyone was waiting for them to fall, and every Tuesday night, they were scoring a last minute winner or equaliser.
“We have the first part done, but there is no point in thinking too far ahead. Maybe if we are four or five points ahead with two games left and in the final of the Intermediate Cup, then we can think about that, but until then, it’s a big, big ask.”
First things first. And that means overcoming a Larne side two places behind the Welders in the table, and who also defeated the east Belfast men in October.
Smyth is one of football’s true gentlemen and would never underestimate any team he’s due to face, but given that the Welders’ defeat to the Invermen was one of only two in 14 league games so far this season, there may be extra cause to be wary.
The Welders boss continued: “All I know is that Larne, like us, have signed really well in January. The thing I’m not too sure about is who they have cup-tied.”
The new additions at Tillysburn – Darren Nixon (Lisburn Distillery), Ethan Boylan (Bangor) and Carl Devine (Linfield Swifts) – are a great blend of youth and experience, and could well prove to be a major boost in the Welders’ push for more silverware this season.
But one thing Smyth accepts is that the chances of them replacing the goals provided by their only outgoing player last month are next to none.
Everyone connected with the Welders realised that with Michael McLellan’s exceptional goals-to-games ratio, it would only be a matter of time before the former Portadown and Ballymena United striker had a third opportunity to showcase his talent in the Danske Bank Premiership.
The only drawback for Welders fans was that they couldn’t hold onto him for another five months… though Smyth is glad to have played a part in this prolific goal-scorer’s development and is looking forward to see what the next chapter has in store for McLellan at his new club Linfield.
“I was gutted (when the call came),” admitted Smyth. “But at the same time, I’m delighted for Michael.
“He had been talking about staying, but when Linfield came in, there was only one choice. He owes us absolutely nothing.
“At the end of the day, it’s very hard to compare him with anyone, in any league – he got 74 goals in 56 games for us. It’s incredible.
“The goal posts are the same size (in the Premiership), and there’s no question that if he’s in the mood, he’ll be a success.
“As for us, it may mean less goals, but we have conceded the joint lowest amount of goals in our league and are working hard in all areas of the pitch. If that continues, I’ll be just as happy winning 1-0 as any other score… as long as we’re winning.”