Belfast Telegraph

Comment: A look at the Irish League transfer deals already done and some still to come

By Billy Weir

It's less than a fortnight into the transfer window and things couldn't be more exciting if Jim White had been airlifted into Northern Ireland armed only with a stupendous sack of superlatives and a job lot of yellow paint.

January is traditionally a time for bargain hunting, although for eager shoppers in the Danske Bank Premiership, it does smack a little of panic buying as the trap door to ignominy, financial ruin and, perish the thought, Larne, looms large.

That is, of course, unless the Invermen pull off a recovery that would leave even the aforementioned Mr White speechless, as it only seems a few short weeks ago that they were rooted to the foot of the B Division and thoughts of revolution as likely as North and South Korea having a friendly natter.

Funny how things in the far east and east Antrim now seem tickety-boo as all of a sudden Tiarnan Lynch's men are fifth in the table and, with a sixth-round tie in the Tennent's Irish Cup at home to Dundela to come, 2018 could well be a year to remember.

The latest player to arrive is former Derry City defender Shane McEleney, a man with tremendous Airtricity Premier League experience as well as a stint under former Linfield striker Paul Dalglish at Ottawa Fury in Canada in the US Soccer League, their B Division if you like.

Of course, Lynch's task, like that of all the other managers who are scrambling beneath unfolded jumpers to see if there is anything worth picking up, is gelling these new acquisitions into what they already have, and quickly.

It's no surprise that the busiest Premiership side to date has been Ballinamallard United, with five players coming into Ferney Park as they try to put the miserable first half of the season behind them.

Bringing David Kee back to the club on loan from Coleraine is a great piece of business, they really need a calm, experienced head in the engine room at the minute to try and guide what is a promising crop of kids through a horrible patch.

The loan system is a godsend for clubs who don't have the squillions that Larne seemingly have at their disposal, or rather have to adhere to the NIFL rules on what you can spend against what you bring in.

There have been a few Premiership bosses tutting disapprovingly at the conveyor belt at Inver Park but, whatever your thoughts on its morality or long-term feasibility, get over it, they're doing nothing wrong and there isn't a club in the land who wouldn't do the same given half the chance.

Other clubs are taking the opportunity to blood some of their youngsters elsewhere, most notably Glenavon and Crusaders, who have farmed out exciting talent Ryan Nimick to get some invaluable first-team experience at Carrick Rangers.

Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton, who pulled off some great business in acquiring Warrenpoint Town striker Stephen Murray, is considering loaning out Jordan Jenkins for the same reason, a move that has paid off in spades for Bobby Burns, who had a spell at Knockbreda last season and has become one of the first names on the Mourneview Park team-sheet.

Matthew Shevlin, who announced himself to the local game as a 16-year-old a couple of seasons back, hit the inevitable wall for one so young, with injury and lack of form meaning a return to reserve-team football but a loan move to Ards last season was inspired.

He scored twice for Ballymena United on Saturday to take his season's tally to six and is once again looking like the player who had a host of cross-channel clubs on his trail.

Darren Murray is another player likely to be on his way, sooner rather than later, with Crusaders favourite to land his signature ahead of Coleraine, while other clubs will be looking even further afield to enlist players from over the border.

Linfield have done just that with Kurtis Byrne and Achille Campion, Coleraine have brought Stephen Dooley back from Cork, and it is a traditional stomping ground for Ballinamallard, while Ards boss Colin Nixon is delighted to have acquired the services of Luke Kelly from the Leinster Senior League, a path that the Lurgan Blues have trodden successfully over the years.

Perhaps the most surprising piece of business is yet to be done. There is no secret that Linfield are desperate to land Glenavon winger Joel Cooper, but David Healy's decision to show Aaron Burns the door is a real jaw-dropper.

Like Stephen Lowry, the Blues midfielder's contract is up at the end of the season but, unlike his team-mate, no new deal has been put up and now they are looking to cash in on him in January rather than allow him to leave for nothing in the summer.

Glenavon have ruled themselves out of the running, while Michael Gault's unfortunate departure from Ballymena because of injury may bring the Sky Blues to the table to fight it out with Cliftonville and, yes, you guessed it, Larne, but who isn't going to want a midfielder who can guarantee you double figures each season? Apart from Linfield.

There is sure to be plenty more wheeling and dealing over the next three weeks, with a few surprises to be found - just keep an eye out if Jim White is spotted coming off a boat in Larne.

New signing McGuigan a real boost for Glens

Whatever business is completed during the transfer window, it is unlikely to be as crucial as Glentoran’s ‘new’ arrival.

Influential midfielder John McGuigan, such a key part of the Glens’ promising start to the season, made his comeback from injury in Saturday’s cup win over Lurgan Celtic, much to the delight of manager Gary Haveron.

“It’s a big, big plus having John back available to play,” said Haveron. “He has only done a session or two with the team, so he will get stronger and better.”

And so will the Glens with him back on board.

King of the mic lost for words in Ballymena

There was a red face for the Sky Blues’ master of the mic, Davy ‘Kingo’ King on Saturday as he confidently announced Tony Kane as the scorer of Ballymena United’s third goal against Moyola Park.

The only problem was that referee Ian McNabb had spotted an infringement and, while the players lined up for the free-kick, they were slightly bemused to hear news of the goalscorer over the P.A. system.

Kane had the presence of mind to celebrate in the centre circle but clearly Kingo knew the score as later in the game the United midfielder did indeed net the third goal, and the king of the airwaves made no mistake this time around, no longer suffering from Premature Acclamation.

Millar makes his point in best possible way

Nice to see that with the arrival of two high-profile new players at Windsor Park it was a home-grown talent that stole the show.

Kirk Millar’s double strike helped see off Glebe Rangers and showed the value of patience as Millar came off the bench having had to kick his heels on the sidelines.

“You have to take your opportunity when you get it,” Millar said. “You have to show (the manager) why you should be in the side. I was disappointed to be left out, but you have to get your head right and be ready if you get the call.”

That will be music to Healy’s ears.

Final Word

The path of true Tennent’s Irish Cup love may well have hit rocky ground, with not even the merest hint of a giant-killing and not a shock to be seen anywhere. Of the matches involving senior sides against junior or intermediate opposition, the aggregate score was an incredible 32-4. Ah, the romance of it all…

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