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Irish League half-term report: Who are the star pupils and who must do better?

Billy Weir offers his assessment of each club's start to the Premiership season

By Billy Weir

With half-term upon us, the clocks falling back and leaves causing mayhem, it seems an apposite time to reflect on how things have been going thus far at the Danske Bank Premiership School for Young Gentlemen.

In fairness, I was going to do this last week but then the wheels came off at Linfield, so, with a note from my mammy, here is my report on how things have fared so far.

Coleraine: The big pointy hat with a 'D' emblazoned upon it sits forlorn and redundant in the Coleraine Showgrounds as the dream continues for all in blue and white stripes. You get the feeling if they entered Strictly or X Factor they'd probably win that too and even though we're all waiting for it all to go south, that seems as likely as an MLA handing his or her money back.

Star pupil: Every last one of them.

Must do better: Are you having a laugh?

Grade: A++

Glenavon: Who would have thought it, the cheeky scamp at the back of the class who promised so much last year with their big, bulging lunchbox of goodies but delivered very little has come good. The kick in the spherical region that was the disappointment of missing out on a trip to Europe has been replaced with a joyous expression of the kids going out and enjoying themselves.

Star pupil: Mark Sykes, playing out of his skin and there are several others just behind him.

Must do better: Bobby Burns. Nothing to do with his football, but wearing a No.3 shirt and playing up front is just wrong.

Grade: A

enavon v Ards 041.png
Mark Sykes is a man in form.

Crusaders: There are always an awful lot of 'F' words floating around Seaview - football, faith and ferocity the three we hear most - but so far this season flattering to deceive would be the 'F' of choice. Brilliant one week, pants the next, if they played on Sky every weekend they'd win the Champions League, but they don't.

Star pupil: Paul Heatley, the one-man goal of the season competition continues to show why he's the most exciting player in the league.

Must do better: Gavin Whyte. His brilliant display against Linfield shows just what he can do and if Crusaders are to do anything he needs to do that more often than not.

Grade: F, oh okay, C.

Linfield: Where do you start? The school bully who nipped in and pinched the Gibson Cup from an unsuspecting Crusaders has been given a good slap in the chops. Four league defeats already, one more than all of last season, and headmaster David Healy spends most of his time reading the riot act at players, officials and anyone else he can find. Blues in crisis. Be afraid.

Star pupil: Roy Carroll, like a lump of Fivemiletown cheddar, he's getting better with age, unfortunately surrounded by an Emmental defence, full of holes.

Must do better: All of them, apart from Roy.

Grade: D

Roy Carroll

Cliftonville: 'Dear Sir, can you please excuse Cliftonville from games until September as we're not sure if we like this new boy, kind regards, the players'. I got my hands on this note and it explains why the Reds were playing like men who'd never met before. Barry Gray, the new boy from the country, seems to have settled into city life and now things are looking better for everyone, although he still keeps a close eye on his dinner money.

Star pupil: Chris Curran, the one constant in a season of topsy-turvy showings.

Must do better: The strikers. It's been hit and miss but Rory Donnelly now seems to be in the mood and it's only a matter of time before Joe Gormley starts scoring for fun.

Grade: C

Glentoran: Winston Churchill once talked of a 'riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma'. Historians first thought he was speaking of Russia when, in fact, he was talking about another beast from the east, Glentoran. Going to The Oval is like going on a blind date with Vladimir Putin - you're flattered and mildly excited, but you have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next.

Star pupil: Curtis Allen, what a masterstroke it was keeping him at The Oval, they'd be lost without him.

Must do better: Robbie McDaid, bags of talent but needs to take the weight off Allen.

Grade: C

Glentoran’s Curtis Allen celebrates after scoring at the Bangor Fuels arena. Photo Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker Press

Ballymena United: The money I have wasted on that open-top bus for the imminent arrival of the Gibson Cup in May 2018 - it may have to be ushered further up the A26. Fourth last year, a League Cup in the trophy cabinet and world domination seemed to be in David Jeffrey's grasp but it just hasn't happened. Don't underestimate the loss of head boy Allan Jenkins, and last year's star pupil Tony Kane has strangely been detained on the bench for large spells.

Star pupil: Cathair Friel, no second season struggles for him, still bagging the goals and with Johnny McMurray back alongside him things should get better.

Must do better: The local council, whatever it is now called. It's hard to play football when the pitch still has remnants from Ormond Christie's Opel Kadett on it.

Grade: E

Dungannon Swifts: If Rodney McAree had a pound for every time he has heard, 'I like Dungannon, they play lovely football' he would have enough to stretch twice around the Moy. I can't imagine he thought that when Cliftonville ran amok but that's life at Dungannon for you, the good and the bad. They play lovely football though…

Star pupil: Ryan Mayse, has been one of the shining lights of the season thus far but needs to keep that going now.

Must do better: Pundits who just refer to Dungannon as playing lovely football.

Grade: C

Dungannon's Ryan Mayse has been the star man at Stangmore Park. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemak er Press

Ards: A first full term for Colin Nixon promised much after what looked like some great business over the summer. Losing once by six goals to three is excusable, but twice is just plain carelessness. The ship seems to have steadied a little and they look to have too much in them to go down but then again lots of people have said, 'They don't shoot people like us, do they?' and it hasn't ended well.

Star pupil: Jonny Frazer, bags of tricks, an eye for a goal and a lovely young man as well, probably very kind to the elderly and helps injured dogs across busy roads.

Must do better: Guillaume Keke, built like a concrete lavatorium, he should be terrorising defenders rather than just PA announcers who have no idea how to pronounce his name.

Grade: E

Carrick Rangers: I've always had a soft spot for Carrick Rangers, I can't explain it. I like Holland so maybe it's to do with the orange shirts, but what I can't have is the name of the ground. It's Taylors Avenue, that's an end to it. As for the football, Davy McAlinden is a top bloke and a refreshing new face in the managerial ranks so let's hope he gets all the time he needs to plug the holes in the dykes at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena (aarrghhh!)

Star pupil: Denver Gage. No one outside of Clough has a clue what he's on about but good to see the big man getting a regular chance at this level.

Must do better: Mikel Suarez, built like a concrete bano, he should be terrorising defenders every week rather than just PA announcers who have no idea how to pronounce his name

Grade: D

Denver Gage joined Carrick from Ards in the summer

Warrenpoint Town: How did that happen? Matthew Tipton, the class joker, is suddenly a manager, all suited, booted and talking about tactics. Don't panic, he's still as nutty as a squirrel's break-time snack but he's a breath of fresh air on the sidelines where, STATsports have revealed, he, on average, puts four times as many yards in as he did as a player.

Star pupil: Darren Murray, an absolute menace, doesn't give you a minute's peace and hard to handle. That's the referees' views and defenders probably feel the same way.

Must do better: Darren Murray, as above, on his day he is unplayable but if he's not able to play then that really is a problem.

Grade: E

Ballinamallard United: Oh dearie, dearie me, what can one say? It wasn't meant to end like this, ducks haven't been treated in such a hard way since Elmer Fudd was given an Uzi for his birthday. Gavin Dykes and his ambient collection of casual lounge wear has been a welcome change to the dark suited ranks of managers but sadly very few in Fermanagh have dressed to impress thus far this season. Still, the new autumn range is in, perhaps a change of fortune will follow.

Star pupil: My mammy always said if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing, and as I am very fond of ducks, I shall draw a discreet veil over this.

Must do better: Should really read 'can't do much worse' but as renowned philosopher Yazz, leader of the Plastic Population, once said, 'The only way is up.' Baby.

Grade: F

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