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Billy Weir: Splits leave us up in the air and head over heels

By Billy Weir

I know you will pinch yourself, scarcely able to suspend your disbelief, but I was never much good at doing the splits.

Rhys McClenaghan I was not but, and as much as it pains me to admit it, our football brains trust have struck gold with the end-of-season jamboree that is the post-split campaign.

I have to admit that I did raise a sceptical eyebrow or two when the scheme was first introduced, but it really has come of age this season with every week seeming to throw up a clutch of mouth-watering and imponderable clashes.

And not just in the Premiership, the action in the Championship (B Division) has been just as gripping as Rhys on the pommel horse, full of twists and turns, but thankfully no Lycra gym-suits have been harmed in the pursuit of promotion.

Friday night is a crucial one in terms of the race to join the promised land, with Newry City AFC and Portadown going head to head at the Showgrounds.

After the dissolving of Newry City in 2012, club patrons got back on the horse with the formation of a fresh set-up the following year and, under boss Darren Mullen, have been mightily impressive.

Institute, barring a fall of Devon Loch proportions, look home and hosed as champions after their defeat of Harland & Wolff Welders on Tuesday and, a bit like Man City, could have the title handed to them without kicking a ball in anger on Friday night if Newry lose.

But, of course, this is Irish League football. Things could still get a tad complicated.

Portadown have, after a season of more ups and downs than, well, me on a pommel horse, somehow scrambled into the equation under new boss Matthew Tipton.

For them, third spot is the most likely route to potential upward movement, as they have only two games to play to Newry's three, and that other fixture is against Institute.

If they were to win both those games and secure third behind Newry, then the two would clash again in a one-off play-off match at the Marshes, with the winner of that then going on to face either Ballinamallard United or Carrick Rangers in the annual white-knuckle, red-faced, brown-trousered ride that is the promotion-relegation play-off.

Still with me? Good, as it wouldn't be the Irish League without someone chucking a few loose marbles onto the dance floor.

The Welders could, despite that slip on Tuesday, sashay into third and, because they have no desire to play at a higher level, that would mean no first play-off game and Newry or Portadown or Stute (I told you it could get complicated) facing off with the Mallards or Rangers.

And if the wheels completely come off at Newry and Portadown, the Welders could finish second, meaning there would be no play-off and much relief would be had by the team finishing 11th in the top division.

It's not as fanciful as it sounds as two out of their three remaining games are against Mullen's men, who may have the rug whipped away from under them and could miss out on the play-offs against whoever it may be.

And that now looks like being the Ferney Park side, whose transformation under Harry McConkey has been nothing short of remarkable.

Two wins, three draws and one defeat mean they have vaulted over the Rangers who look like they couldn't win an argument at the moment.

Of course, the other great unanswered question is, when and if Stute make it back up, where will they play?

To be in the position they are having played just one match in Drumahoe since the disastrous floods and subsequent infestation of Japanese knotweed (words rarely used in football columns) is nothing short of remarkable.

Manager Paddy McLaughlin has achieved miracles with his side, put together on a shoestring budget and loving life on the road.

It is something they will have to get used to as the Riverside Stadium is a non-starter for their return, meaning they have a few options, including trying to build their own new ground, more than likely in a partnership with Derry and Strabane District Council.

That would be some way down the line and means that the best alternative would be a move across the city to the fantastic new facilities at the Brandywell but, again, this could prove problematic, with possible security concerns.

This is something that the authorities will have to hammer out with all bodies, but another option is they could share The Oval for a season and hope to get a new ground up and running.

And it's not as far-fetched as you think, logistical nightmare that it would be. After all, Ards play at Bangor, so the precedent is there and an agreement is already in place for the men from the north-west to play in the east.

Another more unlikely option is to share with neighbours Limavady United, but this is likely to mean some work to get the Roesiders' ground ready again for Premiership football.

So, if you think the matters are confusing on the pitch, the ones off it are mind-blowing, but one thing is for sure, things aren't going to be flipping boring over the next few weeks until someone is head over heels in delight.

Billy tackles Andy McGrory

It was quite a week for Ballinamallard United’s Stephen O’Flynn. Not only did he score in the Ferney Park side’s draw with Dungannon last Saturday, his side then defeated Carrick Rangers to move off the bottom of the table on Tuesday.  But, even more importantly, he won last week’s predictions — largely thanks to calling that Coleraine would beat Ballymena United 1-0 while the less said about my feeble efforts the better.

Next up to inflict more misery upon me is Glenavon’s Andy McGrory, whose side take on Ballymena United this weekend, but who has taken time out to cast his eye over the other Premiership games. The usual rules apply, three points for an exact score and one point for the correct outcome.

Crusaders v Cliftonville

Saturday (3.00pm)

I can’t really see past Crusaders because I think Cliftonville will have one eye on the Irish Cup final. I think Barry Gray said after our match last week that their season rests on that game, so I would have to go for the Crues. I can see Cliftonville scoring but I think with Crusaders losing the league the way they did last year I don’t think it’ll happen again.

McGrory prediction: 2-1

Weir prediction: 2-0

Linfield v Coleraine

Saturday (3.00pm)

I have gone with my heart on this one because we need Coleraine to do the business for us. I think it will be a very tight match because obviously Linfield need to win as well.

McGrory prediction: 1-2

Weir prediction: 0-1

Glentoran v Carrick Rangers

Saturday (3.00pm)

It could be anything but it was the first score that came into my head! The Glens are so unpredictable but I really don’t know what has gone wrong there because they have a good side. They are good going forward but it just seems to be at the back. A few injuries seem to have taken their toll.

McGrory prediction: 3-1

Weir prediction: 1-1

Ards v Ballinamallard United

Saturday (3.00pm)

Ballinamallard are fighting for their lives and I fancy a draw. I think they are in a false position, to be honest. They played us a couple of weeks ago and they really troubled us at home. They are good going forward but leaked stupid goals at the back, but Harry McConkey has steadied things at Ferney Park.

McGrory prediction: 1-1

Weir prediction: 2-2

Dungannon Swifts v Warrenpoint

Saturday (3.00pm)

Warrenpoint secured their safety at the weekend and, again, they are two very good teams going forward and both love to play football and knock the ball about so I’m going for a high-scoring draw.

McGrory prediction: 2-2

Weir prediction: 1-2

Season’s standings:

Players 15

Weir 8

Out on the wing

Murphy’s law might just sort out the Glens

I read with interest the comments made by the great Roy Coyle at the weekend of his surprise that Rodney McAree and Colin Nixon hadn’t leapt at the chance to manage Glentoran.

“It’s difficult for a man like me, who grew up in east Belfast, played for and against the Glens and won titles as both player and manager to understand how ambitious young managers would not jump at the job,” he mused.

Really? Coyle remains at the Oval as Director of Football and even his persuasive ways couldn’t shift Nixon from the truth that he was yet again an afterthought for a job he would crawl over broken glass for.

 Now it seems Coyle could move even further up the stairs to allow Ronnie McFall to come in as Director, and if that isn’t enough to put the fear of God into anyone crazy enough to still want the job, then I don’t know what is.

A lot of names are being bandied about — Andy Smith, Johnny McKinstry, Nacho Novo and Robert Malcolm — but surely the only realistic one, if he’s crazy enough to take the plunge, would be Darren Murphy.

As a former Linfield player he is unlikely to be the Glenmen’s hoped for returning hero, but he has proven pedigree as a player and in his time at the helm of Dungannon Swifts, he knows the game inside out and would have the strength of character to deal with two giants of the game looming large on Mersey Street.

 But this needs to be done sooner rather than later, with players jumping on board the end of season merry-go-round but when the likes of legends like Billy Caskey, Paul Leeman and Billy McKeag are saying enough is enough, then it is.

Cup final is becoming hottest ticket in town

There is usually much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the Big Two don’t make the Irish Cup Final with concerns that there will be vast swathes of empty seats.

 That certainly isn’t looking likely this time around with Coleraine and Cliftonville fans grabbing hold of clearly the hottest tickets in town.

 After only a few days on sale, an estimated 6,000 have been snapped up by Bannsiders’ fans keen to see them complete the double while Reds’ supporters want to be there in numbers to see them end that cup hoodoo (delete as applicable).

 To have reached 10,000 sales in the space of three days is simply fantastic, and shows the interest there is in the local game’s big day out.

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