Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: Turkey or cracker? Assessing the Christmas form of the Irish League teams

Linfield's Roy Carroll celebrates his side's festive victory over Cliftonville.
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Linfield's Roy Carroll celebrates his side's festive victory over Cliftonville. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Happy Blue year: Jimmy Callacher and Jordan Stewart have been on fire for Linfield
Tough times: Paul Leeman, Gary Smyth and Ronnie McFall are finding life tough at Glentoran at the moment
Michael McCrudden

By Billy Weir

And so that was Christmas, the mistletoe lies sodden in a half-empty beaker of Prosecco beneath the tinsel that long since fell off the tree and you are down to just the Fudge left in the box of Miniature Heroes.

But where were the Celebrations for our teams in the Danske Bank Premiership? Who was strolling down Quality Street and coming up smelling of Roses, and whose selection box is as empty as Glentoran's bank account?

So here's to 2019, a mouthwatering few months lie in wait with the prospect of the best title race since, well, 2018 if we're being honest, but here goes:

Ards

Festive record: LLWL

Turkey or cracker? One swallow doesn't make a summer, by all accounts, and one win doesn't disguise the poo Ards find themselves in. My favourite Christmas pressie of all time was Striker, a much superior football game to Subbuteo, and I could be found in my room for hours at a time. I was 29. And how manager Colin Nixon would love a striker too, or even Captain Birdseye, just someone who could put something in the net.

New Year resolution: To score more goals and to have referees stop making absolutely shocking decisions against them.

Ballymena United

Festive record: WDWL

Turkey or cracker? Seven points from 12 represents a poor return given the way things have been going at Warden Street thus far this season, but like that dubious man next door with the collection of crocodile clips, they are still pinching themselves on an hourly basis. I still have this recurring dream that it is early May, I am standing on an open-top bus on Harryville Bridge beside David Jeffrey who is holding the Gibson Cup with sky blue ribbons fluttering in the wind and he is still refusing to talk up their title chances.

New Year resolution: If they can get over the crippling injury list and get the Johnny McMurray situation sorted out, then never mind it being the Year of the Pig, the sheep could be in for quite a year too.

Cliftonville

Festive record: LLLL

Turkey or cracker? I don't know if Barry Gray played Ker-plunk as a nipper, or indeed now, but the basic premise was that things went relatively ticketyboo for a long time and then one wrong move and you lost all of your marbles. After rattling off three greats wins in a row at the start of December, they have now had four defeats in a row, conceding a frankly embarrassing 17 goals in the process. Not even Joe Gormley can score 18 to rescue them every week.

New Year resolution: Time to get out that Big Boy's Book of Defending, and quick, before it is too late.

Coleraine

Festive record: WDWW

Turkey or cracker? Rodney McAree's stockings must have been jam-packed with Magic Trees, Febreze and other assorted smelly things as Christmas has been a breath of fresh air for the Coleraine boss. Up until now they have been like a bunch of sulky kids refusing to get along with their mum's new boyfriend after their dad upped sticks and moved to Scotland for love (Street).

New Year resolution: It will be interesting to see how they fare without Ciaron Harkin, but in Ben Doherty and Jamie Glackin they have boosted their already impressive midfield even further. And Jamie McGonigle seems to have returned to something like his best form too.

Crusaders

Festive record: WWWW

Turkey or cracker? What a silly question. It's Christmas and I'm going to recycle one of my old jokes, but the side that has had more false dawns than a Vicar of Dibley-themed yuletide shindig look to be back to their ominous best. Four more wins over the festive period and a New Year's BEM for Stephen Baxter, there is simply no stopping them at the minute. Although I am sceptical that the winner against Ballymena wasn't guided in like a drone over Gatwick.

New Year resolution: Like the rear of a pantomime horse, when they get to the business end of the season, then stand well back. Will be very interesting to see how the new arrivals are bedded into a team that is flying. There's that drone again...

Dungannon Swifts

Festive record: LDLW

Turkey or cracker? Like that chubby wee lad down the road on his Raleigh Grifter, they have a tendency to wobble uncontrollably, aren't sure in what direction they might go, but once they get it stabilised they'll be grand. A baffling home 3-0 duffing by Ards, who couldn't score their bottom on a broken bottle, was followed by recording a 100 per cent away record for 2019, although, to be fair, that came against the Glens.

New Year resolution: Santa brought the small rotund chap's sister a trampoline and, like Dungannon, there will be more ups and downs and a few bumps and bruises, but they'll be grand.

Glenavon

Festive record: DDDL

Turkey or cracker? As Gary Hamilton looks on miserably at yet another unwanted Mach 3 gift set, he also has to get used to life without two of the most treasured toys from his play box with Mark Sykes off to Oxford and Ben Doherty bound for Coleraine - possibly the only time those two places will ever appear together unless some brainy kid from Articlave is filling in his university application.

New Year resolution: Hamilton usually has something tucked up his sleeve when it comes to players, but he needs to deal like Del Boy if he is to steady the good ship Mourneview.

Glentoran

Festive record: LLL

Turkey or cracker? Bernard Matthews step aside, there is a new turkey home in town. When the three wise men from the East embarked upon their journey, it really wasn't meant to be this way. You get the feeling if the Glens were dandering around the Orient looking for salvation they'd look up and see they were at home to Ebbsfleet Town. But fret not, there might be a man from Iran with a big bag of gold (possibly frankincense and myrrh too) coming to the rescue. Yep, and I still leave out milk, a mince pie and a carrot for Rudolph.

New Year resolution: Panic is the usual go-to for the board at The Oval so expect more of the same.

Institute

Festive record: WWDW

Turkey or cracker? I don't care if Ballymena do go on to win the title, or whether Linfield or Crusaders are champions, what has been achieved by Paddy McLaughlin and his players is nothing short of incredible. They have taken over Dungannon's 'they play lovely stuff' cliche and somehow find themselves in seventh spot in the table, and all this without a home of their own. Three wins and a draw over Christmas is title-winning form, but that may have to wait until next season.

New Year resolution: In 1689 the Siege of Derry lasted three and a half months, but that will seem like a picnic compared to the next three and a half weeks as McLaughlin desperately tries to hold on to Michael McCrudden.

Linfield

Festive record: DWWW

Turkey or cracker? Like the Queen's Speech, eating too much and bickering over Monopoly, you just know Linfield are going to be there or thereabouts over the festive period. Three wins and a draw have taken them back to the top of the table and they look very impressive, with Jordan Stewart bounding around like a wee puppy again.

New Year resolution: To keep hold of that genie and his wee lamp that seemingly continues to make Jimmy Callacher invisible at set-pieces. He's behind you, oh no he isn't...

Newry City

Festive record: DLL

Turkey or cracker? A bit like that Etch-a-Sketch you were so excited by, one draw was as good as it got for Newry. It was always going to be tough for Darren Mullen's side but, like a dog walker wearing Teflon gloves, they struggle to hold onto leads.

New Year resolution: It's time to turn half decent displays into a few points because whoever finishes in 11th this season is going to face a mighty challenge from whoever takes second in the Championship.

Warrenpoint Town

Festive record: LDLW

Turkey or cracker? There used to be a cheat on a popular football manager game where you could key in a password and you suddenly had oodles of cash and could attract players to the Irish League from across the globe. Warrenpoint's new goalkeeper has just arrived from Chelsea and they have signed a defender from Brazil. Santa was very good to Stephen McDonnell this year, he must have been a very good boy.

New Year resolution: Just keep doing what you're doing, and well done to the board for keeping faith with McDonnell when it could have been so easy to press the panic button earlier in the season. Mind you, you'd have had to nip up to The Oval to get it.

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