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Billy Weir

Mind the gap... small clubs could come a cropper

Billy Weir


Currie concerns: Carrick Rangers boss Niall Currie
fears teams will be cut adrift

Currie concerns: Carrick Rangers boss Niall Currie fears teams will be cut adrift

�INPHO/Declan Roghan

Currie concerns: Carrick Rangers boss Niall Currie fears teams will be cut adrift

I have some good and bad news for Carrick Rangers boss Niall Currie. As I left him lapping up an excellent win over Ballymena United at a windswept and interesting Warden Street, I revealed my revolutionary plan to, err, revolutionise the game.

It is thus. If I win big (£100m-plus) on Euromillions or the Lottery, I would give each of the teams in the top flight £1m quid each. Well, maybe not Larne, Glentoran or Linfield, but their share can then be dished out equally to the teams in the other divisions.

Yes, a deeply philanthropic gesture on my part, and Niall seemed quite keen on the idea, so brace yourself, we have a winner.

That was the good news. The bad news is that I won £3.46 and, even with Niall's history of turning ugly ducks into swans, I fear this wouldn't buy him half a wounded pigeon.

So, for the meantime, he and the other hard-pressed managers not blessed with benefactors with bottomless pockets will have to soldier on, and it is a battle he can only see getting harder.

There is a genuine fear among many that the league, with so much money coming into it now, has already become a case of 'them and us', and Currie, for one, can only see the gap getting wider.

"We're in a really good place and the club is in a really good place. I think the general consensus is they are over the moon," he says when talking of how things have been transformed at Carrick.

"If you think back 16 months ago the club had just been relegated from the Premiership, so the evolvement and how quickly things have happened has been amazing, but we want to keep progressing, as difficult as it is for a club like ours.

"We can't get them in for an extra night. We're doing a Tuesday for an hour-and-a-half and Thursday an hour-and-a-half on a half-pitch and that's it.

"We're asking the boys to be honest and go and do their own thing on a Monday or Wednesday night, but we need that trust.

"Ideally, I'd like to go full-time, the club would pay me full-time, but we're not in that situation.

"The league is going to get into the situation very soon where there are going to be seven or eight teams at the top and then you're going to have a wee four-team league every year.

"Of the four teams in that league, we're the only one who does two nights, I think Warrenpoint and Dungannon do three, so we're very proud of where we're at."

And with good reason. With 10 games to go they have accumulated 31 points, putting them 15 clear of the danger zone, and only a collapse of Devon Loch proportions would see them looking nervously over the shoulders.

Indeed, they are only three points behind Glenavon with a much better goal difference, so an incredible seventh-placed finish on their return to the big time is still within their grasp.

However, Currie fears that he and the other managers in the mini-league at the lower end of the table will realistically find all they can do now is desperately try and survive while the top teams gallop further into the distance.

"We know how difficult it is going to be for future years," he admitted. "I'm all for clubs evolving into full-time football, I think it's fantastic, but it will leave other clubs cast adrift and that's what's going to happen if this continues.

"How can a club like Carrick go and compete with Glentoran? Maybe clubs like ours could get a hand from the IFA or NIFL to keep it competitive but it's never going to happen, it's a dream.

"What's going on at the minute will cast aside the Warrenpoints, Dungannons, Institutes and Carricks - and you see with Glenavon as well that they're coming into that wee league because they can't afford full-time football.

"Gary Hamilton has said himself that they can't compete with full-time teams. If a full-time team comes in for one of your players, they're gone, and that's just the way it is."

And whoever comes up from the Championship next season, whether it be Portadown or Ballinamallard United or whoever, can expect nothing better than joining in on that mini league.

It is a tough one to solve. Coleraine and Cliftonville don't have the resources of the others in the top six, so unless they can reach Europe by whatever route, it will be a real struggle for them to keep pace as well.

I know it still has some way to go, but if Glentoran, Larne, Crusaders and, eventually, Linfield continue down the full-time path is there really a hope for any of the others?

Yes, teams will still have their days with the odd win in the league and the cups, but to compete over a 38-match season against sides who have the financial muscle to splash the cash in every transfer window is an impossible task.

What will happen? It won't be overnight but I think the all-island league may be the answer, the full-time teams from here joining with their counterparts from south of the border where the game is in complete freefall at the moment.

You could then see a reformed Irish League, maybe bringing up four teams from the Championship and then reverting to one B Division with the remaining clubs and the league below.

There would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the short-term but would fans not prefer to see a competitive league rather than four teams just having it their own way for the foreseeable future?

Time will only tell. For the meantime, we should laud the likes of Currie for what he is doing. All the talk for manager of the season will be around the usual suspects at the top, but if he can take Carrick as high as seventh then, for me, the award is his.

Especially considering the tragedy that the club has had to endure this season.

"We've tried to build a family, build a togetherness among us and we all do things together, and if we have to go to the trenches, you help your mate out," he added.

"We've had a really difficult season, we're still trying to come to terms with Jerry Thompson's loss.

"He was a massive loss as a player and a person, so we're still trying to come to terms with that. We have a lot of young players coming to terms with it, but what we promised was we would give Jerry everything.

"He left everything on the pitch, so we reminded them last week that we would leave everything on it for him and that's what they did."

They did indeed, and finishing the season on a high would be a fitting tribute to him.

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