Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Never mind spring, silly season is here as another club hits the panic button

By Billy Weir

Portadown Football Club really are the comedy gift that keeps on giving. Administrative cock-ups, financial foul-ups and an alarming propensity to keep shooting themselves in the foot, the dismissal of hometown boy Niall Currie is another dark day for a once proud club.

It would be laughable if it wasn't so sad to see the team that for so long flew the flag for parochial sides being reduced to an outfit that lurches like a drunken man on a bouncy castle from one disaster to another.

Currie's sacking last weekend - the first of his career - brought an end to his all-too-brief 14-month spell in charge following what he saw as a dream move to manage the team he supported as a boy.

And what did he come in to? A club with a points deduction, a transfer embargo and with no chance of surviving in the Premiership. But he was a man who, having brought Ards back into the top league, seemed to tick all the boxes.

He could have taken the easier way out and remained at Ards, but his heart ruled his head and he opted to try and transform the Shamrock Park side, but on Saturday, after a scoreless draw with the Welders, he was told it was time to go.

And none of this 'by mutual consent' cobblers that is so often churned out, this was the bullet, fired by a board who, incredulously, Currie has since claimed verbally offered him a new contract a few weeks ago.

Whether that is true or not, what is fact is that, just like Glentoran, it is another alarmingly short-sighted decision to press the panic button when the transfer window is shut and the new incumbent can do precious little to shake things up.

"I could have understood it coming a few months ago during our terrible run but the decision to sack me came with two defeats in 14 league games," said Currie, who quickly found that the scalp of the last team from outside of Belfast to lift the Gibson Cup was the one everyone wanted.

I caught up with him when the Ports played Knockbreda earlier in the season. They scraped a 2-1 win and fans I spoke to were frustrated, but appreciated that any pre-conceived notion that Portadown would simply swat aside these pesky little sides like a cow swishing bluebottles away from its lower reaches were far-fetched and fanciful.

"I didn't step down, I want to make that clear. I have never quit in my life," he said after the old Spanish archer El Bow did his dirty work on Saturday.

The Ports sit in fifth place in the Bluefin Sport Championship, 17 points behind leaders Institute and nine behind Newry City - who they are due to play tomorrow - and with five games left, Currie's belief that a play-off spot was still obtainable was unlikely but surely he deserved the chance to try and achieve that.

Whether Institute, if they win the league, can provide a ground to take their place remains to be seen, but the Ports' chances now rest with former striker Matthew Tipton.

His head should probably be telling him to run a mile, but his heart will probably tell him something else. He has carried on the good work of Barry Gray at Warrenpoint - they play some lovely football, but his frustration at losing Darren and Stephen Murray in January was palpable.

After Tuesday night's 5-0 drubbing at Glentoran - now managed by up-and-coming hot-shot Ronnie McFall (I wonder why Portadown didn't fancy him?) - the news we all expected came yesterday morning that Tipton had left, yep, you guessed it, by mutual consent.

Point chairman Connaire McGreevy said: "Warrenpoint Town is a club in transition and the positive moves forward continue on and off the pitch."

Hmmm... The words of Paul Kirk immediately spring to mind and should ring very big bells of the alarming kind for Warrenpoint fans, with Kirker quipping that he was sacked by Distillery because they 'wanted to go in a different direction'. Indeed, they have.

Point have appointed Stephen McDonnell as 'interim player-manager' until the end of the season, with Tipton, surprise, surprise, named the next Ports boss yesterday evening.

Glentoran legend Colin Nixon and newly-crowned League Cup winner Rodney McAree at Dungannon Swifts are being touted to take over from Gary Haveron but unless there are huge changes behind the scenes it would be best to avoid that beast from the east for the foreseeable future.

So as March begins the season that is spring has been replaced by the silly one, but it's not funny for Ports, Glens or Warrenpoint fans. Let's hope when the snow clears, it brings with it a bit of true grit from boards to give managers a proper chance.

Saudi not so good on yet another off day for the refs

It's good to see that the silly season doesn't just apply to clubs and boards, it's nice to see the powers that be and referees joining in too.

It is easy to understand Oran Kearney's consternation at being a guinea pig when the bizarre decision was taken to jet in a team of officials from Saudi Arabia to take charge of Coleraine's crucial game with Warrenpoint Town at the weekend.

Now, Oran is one of the most mild-mannered men you could ever wish to meet but even he was spitting feathers at this bizarre decision. Then again, with the officials only having a smattering of English they probably felt right at home in Coleraine. I'm joking, calm down.

"Having the officials over was not ideal in my opinion, and I wasn't happy when I heard about it," Oran said.

"Why pick us for an experiment? How did we get chosen? There were three or four decisions for both sides you would query.

"I'm glad it hasn't cost us with a debatable red card or penalty. If it was sixth against seventh then I wouldn't have cared, anyone could have reffed the game.

"It's great experience for them and I don't begrudge that element of it."

Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg, now in charge of Saudi refs, was in attendance - I wonder if he got an 'I love Ballysally' tattoo on his trip? - but you don't have to go as far as the Middle East to get baffling refereeing decisions.

In Carrickfergus we had a contender for howler of the season as the man in the middle Keith Kennedy red-carded Joel Cooper for savagely kicking a defenceless ball with a perfectly-timed challenge.

In the end Glenavon defeated Carrick Rangers and we all know that refs are merely human, despite the rumours otherwise, and at least he annoyed both sides by awarding a contentious penalty that gave Glenavon a late winner.

"I told him that I thought he had an absolute disgrace of a performance and he said I'll put that in my report," said David McAlinden.

"It's like dealing with children at times. The relationship is probably the worst I've seen in all my days involved in football.

"If I saw Davy Malcolm, Davy Redfern or any of those guys who refereed when I was playing I could stand and have a yarn with them. If I saw any of the ones today I would cross the road and not speak to them!"

And I'm sure that Oran feels the same, although he'll need to swap Riada for Riyadh to avoid his officials. Still, I'm sure it was a lovely return trip that our officials went on.

Out on the wing

It's another red-letter day for Healy's Blues

Another week, another topsy-turvy seven days in the life of Linfield manager David Healy.

A ninth Danske Bank Premiership defeat, at home to Glenavon on Tuesday night, left the Blues boss, in his own words, ‘gobsmacked’ but that’s nothing to what he’ll be on Saturday if they lose to Cliftonville in the Tennent’s Irish Cup quarter-final.

“I’ll certainly stew over this latest disappointment, but Saturday is now the biggest game on our calendar so we have to be right for it,” he said.

“The players are aware of it and they have my full backing. It’s going to be make or break for both teams.”

It certainly is, both sides have hugely under-performed this season and if they go the way of other clubs in recent days, I expect to see Roy Coyle taking over at Windsor and Marty Quinn coming back to Solitude.

Never mind the hype, here come the Invermen

I have a soft spot for Larne, and I don’t mean the harbour, and am strangely intrigued by the soap opera that is Eastantrimenders at the moment.

This Saturday, if Shane’s Hill can be skied over, they will face local rivals Ballymena United, who look as if they haven’t enough in them to knock snow off a rope at the moment, in what has ‘cup shock’ written all over it.

It is a huge game for Larne, it has a sense of arrival — will the money that has been spent pay dividends with a semi-final spot at the expense of the Sky Blues?

But with good luck messages from, among others, Sam Allardyce, Micky Quinn and Alan Brazil, one thing is for sure — they will have plenty of weight of support behind them.

Final Word

There are no predictions this week with the Cup taking centre stage but last week myself and Cliftonville’s Stephen Garrett played out a highly entertaining six-all draw. They will return next week, if we are thawed out by then.

Belfast Telegraph

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