Comment: What Santa Claus has in store for the Irish League's big names
It's Christmas time, and there's no need to be afraid, well unless you're a Ballinamallard United fan and let's face it, they are as rare as wise men, but with the big man in the red suit, and I don't mean Brian Jensen, about to squeeze down the chimney, just what do you get the Irish League clubs and personalities who have everything in this world of plenty?
Well let's let in some light, banish shade, and even if the world outside your window be full of dread and fear, raise a glass for everyone. Apart from referees, obviously.
Here's what I think Santa may have in his sack for the good and not so good boys of the local game:
David Healy - A Game of Groans box-set and a box of Kleenex for the Linfield boss as he waves goodbye to the title leaving Windsor via Westeros and heading north, to either Coleraine, Crusaders or Cliftonville - all three with much scarier characters than anything Game of Thrones can muster.
Gary Hamilton - Having steadfastly refused to use the Mach3 Turbo Razor gift set he has been getting for the past few years, this year Santa will only bring him a copy of Scouting for Boys as he prepares to usher off his young stars to all corners of the globe. Unless some dreadful refereeing gets in the way, of course.
Gary Haveron - The Glentoran boss is quickly finding out that life in the east is not easy. Things started off with a bar of Turkish Delight - full of eastern promise - but gradually those nasty trolls are sniping away at him, so a copy of Three Billy Goats Gruff would be handy. Failing that, Full Metal Jacket, for his experiences in Nam, Sydenham…
Oran Kearney - the History of Irishmen in Egypt. Go with me on this. Despite their lofty position, the Bannsiders boss is still refusing to entertain the prospect that the Gibson Cup will be heading northwards come May. Clearly living in denial (living in de Nile… oh please yourselves).
Raymond Hetherington - It can only be Guess Who for the Dungannon official after his performance in the League Cup clash between Crusaders and Linfield earlier in the season where he issued a red card to David Cushley and then promptly had another go and sent off the Blues' Mark Stafford instead.
Roy Carroll - What else for the man who seems to be getting better with age, and doesn't look a day older, than a copy of Peter Pan. It could also explain that even at the age of 63 he can still fly around the air with the greatest of ease.
David Jeffrey - After his tiff with Mark Sidebottom (presumably not pictured below) it is fair to say that the Ballymena United boss will be steering clear of BBC programmes for the immediate future, so a subscription to Netflix it is then.
Ballinamallard United - The Great Escape. Does what it says on the tin. Santa, don't get the elves to knock this one out, it's bound to be on Channel Five at some stage over the holidays.
Linfield FC - A big bundle of cash from the IFA. Oh, hold on, they got that last year. And the year before, and the year…
Larne FC - A copy of Titanic - the romantic story of a unbelievable seaside phenomenon of the ages that is surely not going to end well. There are unconfirmed reports of an iceberg bobbing about just past the Gobbins.
Portadown FC - 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. However, it seems that their predicament is so bad outside life in the Premiership that they decided not to send a letter to Santa and instead penned one to Bob Geldof and Midge Ure instead. There are unconfirmed reports that Kate Adie and Michael Buerk have been spotted on the Brownstown Road.
Carrick Rangers - a set of wing mirrors to stop them having to constantly look over their shoulders in case Ballinamallard start winning a few games.
Warrenpoint Town - Any book by Barbara Woodhouse or anything that will show Matthew Tipton's side how to hold on to a lead.
Dungannon Swifts - Striker. No, not the magnificent table-top football game of the Seventies and Eighties, nor the risqué Sun football cartoon, just a striker of any kind. Failing that, a copy of The Stud, someone who can score at will for Rodney McAree's men.
Jamie McGonigle - A new Etch-A-Sketch so that he can draw lines at will to allow the ball to cross them against Linfield. Hang on, I'm beginning to sound like David Healy here. Did I mention the fixture congestion yet?
Crusaders - After the success of the True North 'Keeping the Faith' documentary there are high hopes of Hollywood buying the rights for the movie with Tom Hanks as Stephen Baxter, Steven Seagal as Colin Coates and Michael Douglas as Paul Heatley - he's always falling down!
Cliftonville - I have been scratching my head for what Santa could bring Barry Gray. If only there was a book or a movie with Gray in the title that could sum up the Reds' season to date, a bit of moaning and groaning to start with, finally getting down to business and a joyous conclusion on the cards and not a cable tie in sight. Nope, and I'm still in the shade.
Ards - A real Christmas one this, the Never Ending Story, a tale of a nomadic football club desperately seeking a return home to where they used to live. Christmas is a time for miracles, but there's more chance of Donald Trump turning up in Bethlehem than Ards returning to their homeland.
So there you have it, Santa is in for a busy time, let's hope he gets everything delivered before Boxing Day or before Bono turns up.
BILLY TACKLES... JIM ERVIN
Beware of the late goal. Things were looking not too bad for me last week in my second head to head challenge with Crusaders’ Matthew Snoddy.
A draw seemed to be on the cards and then news came of late goals for Coleraine and Ballymena United that meant correct outcomes became exact scorelines for the midfield ace and I slumped to another defeat, crestfallen but determined to bounce back after a 7-2 defeat.
The man to feel the full force of my bouncebackability is Ballymena skipper Jim Ervin and as always the rules are one point for predicting the outcome, three for getting it right on the nose and we steer clear of the Sky Blues game at Crusaders.
Warrenpoint Town v Coleraine, Friday (7.45pm)
I think this will be a tighter game than most people expect. Warrenpoint have come off a great point at Windsor and by all accounts should have got more. Coleraine are flying and I just can’t see them slipping up on Friday night. They’ve had a lot of big players out for a while, Lyndon Kane has been out all season, big Eoin Bradley got injured against us and Brad Lyons was out too and people expected them to slip up but they haven't.
Ervin prediction: 1-2
Weir prediction: 2-2
Linfield v Cliftonville, Saturday (3.00pm)
This has all the attributes for being a great game, in terms of the way the teams want to play and the run Cliftonville have been on is absolutely phenomenal. I’m not surprised with the talent they have and you have to remember that with a new manager coming in it takes time. The Blues stumbled at the weekend and I think it’ll be a draw.
Ervin prediction: 2-2
Weir prediction: 1-2
Dungannon Swifts v Glenavon, Saturday (3.00pm)
This is always a good game and Dungannon always seem to do well against Glenavon. Glenavon are scoring a bagful of goals and I don’t see that changing especially with big Andrew Mitchell going back to his old club.
Ervin prediction: 1-3
Weir prediction: 1-2
Ards v Ballinamallard Utd, Saturday (3.00pm)
I think everyone is surprised by Ballinamallard this year in terms of where they are because they’re usually a lot stronger. And Ards are another team like that, because on their day they are a very good side as can be seen by some of the results they’ve had and I fancy them for a home win.
Ervin prediction: 2-0
Weir prediction: 1-1
Carrick Rangers v Glentoran, Saturday (3.00pm)
We played Carrick at the weekend and started off really well against them but just couldn’t goal and they got once chance and scored from it and they were ding really well to hold out. But once we got the first goal we knew we could push on and win. The Glens have hit a bit of a dip and lost a few games in the last number of weeks so I’ll go for a draw.
Ervin prediction: 1-1
Weir prediction: 1-3
Season’s standings: Players 9 Weir 5
Out on the wing
Whyte Christmas but a black day for Sykes
Your heart has to go out to Glenavon’s mercurial midfield talent Mark Sykes as his fifth yellow card for an apparent dive ruled him out of Saturday's thriller at Mourneview Park.
Three scouts had made the trip to see him in action but he was sitting in the stand and, like the scouts, will have watched on admiringly as another of the league’s bright young things, Gavin Whyte, took his chance to shine.
It may have put the Crusaders star further forward in the shop window, but with the form Sykes has been in over the past few months it is surely only a temporary set-back before he gets that move across the water to full-time football.
Shout it out, quiet man Ogers back for keeps
Great to see Crusaders’ shy and retiring shot-stopper Sean O’Neill back in action.
The league has been a strangely quiet place without Ogers, one of the true characters of the local game, and it took a big man, literally, to fill in for him between the posts in Burnley legend Brian Jensen.
A great leader on and off the pitch, O’Neill’s return will be a great boost for Stephen Baxter’s men, as if they need one the way they are playing at the minute.
I still can’t believe what Tommy Wright once told me, that he was a great keeper but too quiet! My, how things have changed…
The Inver Reds show signs of the future
Good luck to Cliftonville FC as they continue their sneaky relocation to Larne with four more players making the trip to the coast.
Seriously though, some more fantastic business by the Inver Park side to capture Ciaran Caldwell, Martin Donnelly, Paul Finnegan and Chris Ramsey, all cracking players and proof that Larne aren’t messing about.
Marty Tabb, Marty Quinn and Jim Boyce are expected to sign by the start of January…
By the way, if you think this was just a clumsy and shameless way to use what is possibly my favourite football photo of all time, then you would be quite correct.
Desperately sad news this week at the untimely death of former Cliftonville goalkeeper Paul Straney at the age of just 42. Stran, as he was known to everyone in the local game, was a real character and his loss will be felt most by his own family, but also by everyone in the local football family.