Barry Gray: I'm right man for Warrenpoint to rely on
Barry Gray has revealed that he would walk away from Warrenpoint Town if he didn't think he could make them an established Premiership club.
Point were given an almighty scare in their promotion/relegation play-off against Bangor, surviving by winning a penalty shoot-out after losing 2-0 in the first leg at Clandeboye Park to secure top flight football for a third successive season.
Gray is now determined to avoid a similar scenario next season and he believes that keeping wanted man Daniel Hughes out of the grasps of Linfield and Glenavon is a major boost for the current playing staff and those he is targeting to strengthen the squad.
He has already done that by adding former Cliftonville and Glentoran midfielder Mark Clarke and Stephen Murray, who has been a regular goalscorer at Championship level with Armagh City, has been handed the opportunity to prove himself at the higher level.
"Re-signing Daniel Hughes sends out a good message in a couple of ways," said Gray.
"It tells Daniel himself that we have the ambition to want to keep our best players and the fact that he has signed a two-year deal shows the rest of the squad that we are trying to move forward.
"I said to the players that we have got over the stage of being the rookies in the league having got through our first year, we also survived 'second season syndrome' and now the challenge is to go out and do better and make sure we're not in and around the bottom or a play-off again next season.
"We have to look to take the next step and if I didn't believe that we could do that and improve on last season I would step down."
New signing Clarke won an Irish Cup medal with Glentoran two seasons ago before being placed on the transfer list last summer. He joined Ards in January, but a return to the Premiership is a good fit for both parties.
"We've said since we came into the Premiership that the one thing we were short of was experience at this level," said Gray.
"There is a fine balance, because while you want experienced players you don't want to be bringing in players who are done.
"Mark is perfectly placed in that he has that experience of playing for big clubs, but he is also young enough to fit into the bracket of player that we are looking for and I feel that he will do well for us."
Murray attracted interest from Premiership clubs last summer, but elected to stay at Armagh after helping them win promotion to Belfast Telegraph Championship 1. At 26-years-old he is now ready to test himself among the big boys.
"I think Stephen has to try to push himself by going to the next level," said Gray.
"He has got that quality as a goalscorer and we know what it's like at Championship 1 and Championship 2 level from being there ourselves. Having scored goals in those leagues, I think the time is right for him to push himself in the Premiership and I have faith in him that he can deliver."
Glenavon are hoping to bring former Glentoran favourite Jason Hill out of retirement.
Hill, who was awarded a testimonial at Glentoran in the 2013-2014 season, is 33-years-old and pondering a return to the game.
Lurgan Blues boss Gary Hamilton knows his former team-mate would be an experienced and quality addition to his squad.
Dundela and H&W Welders are also interested in Hill but Glenavon, who qualified for the Europa League, are expected to win the race for his signature should the versatile left-sided player rediscover his appetite for the game.
Crusaders starlet Gavin Whyte has returned from his trial at Premier League side Everton and says he is more determined than ever to carve out a career across the water.
Everton, Norwich City, Celtic and Stoke City have been tracking the 19-year-old's progress.
Whyte said: "It has made me more determined. I still have that dream of playing full-time football in England or Scotland, and the week at Everton has just made me more hungry."
Meanwhile, Sheffield United and Swindon Town are considering a swoop for Linfield starlet Ross Clarke.
Liam Boyce is expected to be recalled into the Northern Ireland squad for the clash against Qatar in a friendly at Crewe Alexandra on May 31.
Another international, Josh Carson, has agreed a one-year deal with York City.