Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Move over Big Sam, it's time for Fireman Gavin to rescue Ballinamallard

By Billy Weir

What's the difference between Ballinamallard United and a hexagon? A hexagon has six points, Ballinamallard only have five…

This tells us two things. Firstly, the craic in our house is ninety and, secondly, Ballinamallard are in some degree of difficulty.

With 18 games gone they are the rockiest of bottoms, Carrick Rangers their only victims and two other points gathered against Cliftonville and Warrenpoint all they have to show for the blood, sweat and many tears that have been spilled in Fermanagh so far this season.

It really is hard to see how Gavin Dykes can turn things around. While many are counting the seconds down to when a big man in red and white empties his sack near the end of December, the Mallards' boss is desperate to see the back of him and ring in the New Year with some prezzies of his own.

He is desperate for new players to breathe new life into his panel. If he hears the words 'Ballinamallard are playing not too bad but just can't win' again, the normally mild-mannered manager is liable to turn into the Tasmanian Devil the night he came home and found his missus doing unmentionable things with Bugs Bunny.

But a few minutes in his company and you get the feeling that not all is lost.

As it stands, they are only four points behind Carrick, with Warrenpoint Town and Ards seven and eight points ahead, and things can change very quickly in this league.

That would be great news for the Mallards, Dykes and also his faithful four-legged friend who hasn't been enjoying life of late.

"How do you switch off? My dog in the house knows the result and he's now hiding. The dog hasn't been seen in 10 weeks, it may have pups," he said after his side's 2-1 defeat at Ballymena United on Saturday.

Ballinamallard have been proudly flying the flag for football in Fermanagh for many years, making the step up, against all odds, under Whitey Anderson's stupendous stewardship in the 2012-13 season.

A fifth-place finish in their first campaign was incredible, but since then it has been a battle for survival, achieved by Anderson and then by Dykes last year with the Mallards finishing 10th, but the manager has no complaints.

"The reality is when I took the job I knew what I was getting into. This club was 10 seconds away from being relegated, that's the reality," he said,

"We did very well last year, we've lost an awful lot of players. We work within the budget we have, so we get players who you ask are they good enough to be in the top half of the league? I don't think so. Are we good enough to compete? On our day, yes.

"When we're not on our day, we get tanked, so we're slowly but surely getting there, and if we finish above the relegation play-off spot we'll have had one hell of a season.

"And that's the target. Can we do it? I think we can.

"There's a lot of football to be played and with the way we're going and the players we're bringing in this January will help."

Dykes is one of the most affable, courteous and genuine figures in the game, a season that must feel like being stuck in a revolving door with an irked octopus shows no signs of letting up, but try telling him that.

"I took over Derry City when they were in a worse situation, I kept Sligo and Finn Harps up when they were in worse situation, I'm a wee bit like Sam Allardyce, I only get jobs fire-fighting," he laughed.

"Am I enjoying it? I wasn't for a while and I had to go away and have a look and, in fairness to the club, if the players haven't listened to me then maybe it's time to get someone else in.

"The problem that came back to me was that an awful lot of the players would leave if I left because a lot of them are here not for the money, but because I brought them here.

"I got myself refocused, got a response from them and we have to push on. Is it tough each week? Of course it is, but it's going to be and I'd rather be fighting to stay in this division than trying to come out of the division below.

"It's easier for us to stay up than next year if we were relegated to come up.

"You can't switch off. I left my house at 8.15am, met a player on the way up (to Ballymena) and I met another one on Sunday. I've got to keep working around the clock to make sure that if the worst comes to the worst I can at least face the people who employ me and say 'I did everything I can.'"

You know, with that attitude those ducks might not be ready to head south just yet and the dog may yet come out of hiding.

Carroll delivers Blues some festive cheer

Ana talking of all-things Fermanagh, another week and another manager waxing lyrical about the form of Linfield keeper Roy Carroll.

The Blues weren’t at their best against Dungannon Swifts last week but a clean sheet was ensured by the safest hands in the business, Carroll (right), putting on a masterclass.

“Roy must be worth 15 points a season to Linfield,” said Swifts boss Rodney McAree.

“He is the best keeper in the league. I think he’s 40 but he is getting across the goal like a spring chicken.”

And, of course, if there’s one thing a spring chicken will avoid at all costs, it’s a stuffing.

McAlinden gives Gers some food for thought

QUOTE of this season, and indeed perhaps of any season, belongs to Carrick Rangers boss David McAlinden with news of two new teams in the ranks of the Danske Bank Premiership.

“It doesn’t matter who we play, whether it’s Potato Farl Rovers, Real Madrid or Coleraine,” said McAlinden ahead of his side’s defeat by the Bannsiders at the weekend, or maybe that should be Pansiders given the arrival of Potato Farl Rovers.

This week they take on Linfield, who are frying, sorry, flying high at the moment.

A case of out of the pan and into the fire…

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Carrick Rangers boss Davy McAlinden

Sykes is bolted on for cross-channel transfer

IT ’S going to be like a jamboree around Mourneview Park over the coming weeks with scouts as far as the eye can see hunting down Glenavon’s Mark Sykes (below).

Bolton Wanderers watched the midfield maestro last week and many more are expected with Gary Hamilton resigned and happy at the same time to losing one of the brightest talents in the Premiership.

“The only two players I have played in the Irish League with over the last 15 years who I would compare him with are Stuart Dallas and Liam Boyce,” said Hamilton. “For me, at this age, he is potentially better than the two of them and he should be playing in England or Scotland.”

Hard to argue with that, although I’m not arguing with Gary in case he throws a tantrum or kicks a chair in my general direction!

IF a wore a hat, and I don’t because I look like Benny from Crossroads when I do (ask your parents, kids), then I would doff it in the general direction of Ross Redman this week.

The Glentoran defender may be out injured at the moment but there’s nothing wrong with his mind as he set an eye-popping season’s best of nine points last Saturday, predicting all five outcomes and getting Coleraine’s 3-1 win at Carrick and Ards’ 2-0 defeat by Glenavon right on the button.

I didn’t. Three points was all I could muster, so before I pull the hat over my eyes and slope off in a huff, it is the turn of Matthew Snoddy this week to heap further misery upon me.

Usual rules apply, Matthew can’t predict Crusaders’ clash with Warrenpoint and it’s three points for an exact scoreline and one for the correct outcome.

Billy tackles...Matthew Snoddy

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Matthew Snoddy
 

Cliftonville v Glenavon - Saturday (3.00pm)

I can see this being a tight game and not many goals in it. Cliftonville are in good form at the minute and they’re not conceding a lot of goals which was their Achilles’ heel at the start of the season. They’ve tightened up at the back and they’re reaping the rewards with their results. But Glenavon are flying too, and it’ll be a good game, so I’ll go for a draw, which would suit us.

Snoddy prediction: 1-1

Weir prediction: 3-2

Coleraine v Dungannon Swifts - Saturday (3.00pm)

I’ve been impressed with Dungannon when we’ve played them this season and they play some really good football, as do Coleraine, and I think that will be another good game to watch. But I can’t see anything other than a Coleraine win to be honest, they’ve looked really strong this year.

Snoddy prediction: 3-1

Weir prediction: 2-2

Carrick Rangers v Linfield - Saturday (3.00pm)

Linfield are starting to hit similar form to last year when they won the league, but to be fair to Carrick they’ve put in some good steady performances in the last few games. I think us beating Linfield at Windsor kicked them into action because they’ve reacted well to that. It’s going to be a really exciting league this year and we just have to keep in the mix.

Snoddy prediction: 0-2

Weir prediction: 1-4

Glentoran v Ballinamallard United - Saturday (3.00pm)

I was really impressed with Glentoran last week. They received a lot of negatives in the press in the build-up but I thought they were fantastic and played some really good football and it was a tight game.

Snoddy prediction: 1-0

Weir prediction: 1-1

Ards v Ballymena United - Saturday (3.00pm)

Ards are a bit up and down at the minute, they seem to get a really good result and then a disappointing one last week when against 10 men you’d expect them to get something off Glenavon. Ballymena were similar, although they’re hitting a good run of form now, to be fair, and I think there will be a lot of goals in this.

Snoddy prediction: 2-3

Weir prediction: 1-2

Season’s standings: Players 8 Weir 5

Final Word

Congratulations to Carrick Rangers’ Mark Surgenor and his much better half Pamela on the arrival of a little bundle of joy (no, not three points, don’t be silly) in the shape of beautiful daughter Bella. We can but hope she takes her looks and wisdom from her mum... and her footballing ability too! Yes, I am still bitter at losing in the predictions.

Belfast Telegraph

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