Belfast Telegraph

Premiership is set to be full of Eastern promise next year

Carrick Rangers manager Niall Currie
Carrick Rangers manager Niall Currie

By Billy Weir

I would probably whisper it quietly around the likes of Gary Hamilton and Warren Feeney, but once again the play-offs are proving to be an incredible curtain-dropper on the season.

Let's start off with Carrick Rangers' return to the Premiership after a fully-merited win in both legs over Ards who, for the way they treated Colin Nixon, it's hard to have much sympathy for.

They will argue that Feeney coming in to replace a man who had showed admirable loyalty to Ards gave them a chance of staying up by reaching the play-off, and we will never know if Nixon could have done that himself.

It matters not now though as, having lost twice, they deserve to go down and, let's be honest, Feeney is an ambitious manager who may feel he has bigger fish to fry elsewhere.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that it was Niall Currie who condemned them to the Championship, a man who managed Ards for six seasons and guided them to promotion.

His achievement in getting Carrick back, especially at the expense of Portadown who daftly dispensed with his services far too soon, is a remarkable one. He has a good team, on and off the pitch, John Bailie and Cliffy Adams two great lieutenants beside him, while skipper Mark Surgenor, who scored the opening goal against Ards on Monday night, has probably been one of the most under-valued and under-rated players in the league for years.

It is a team largely of cast-offs, but Currie has given them hunger (sorry, bad pun) to prove a few people wrong and they have done that with a second place finish in a league that was a one-horse race from the start.

Now the east Antrim derby is back in the big time - the games with Larne adding a little more spice to proceedings - although I am sure the good people of Warrenpoint and Institute are licking their lips at the prospect of a Boxing Day clash!

"After what happened at Portadown, I was on my knees. I was in a really bad place and I wasn't sure if I was going to get back to here," Currie admitted.

"Carrick Rangers came along and gave me a massive opportunity at a time when I didn't expect anything and I will always be grateful for that chance to rebuild my career."

So a fully paid-up fan of the promotion/relegation play-off, but it will be hard to convince Gary Hamilton and Rodney McAree that the Europa League version is anything other than cruel.

For Glenavon, who finished third in the Premiership, to be dumped out by seventh-placed Glentoran is a real kick in the wobbly bits and a huge dent in their plans for the next couple of seasons.

The £200,000 prize for qualifying may just be loose change for the soon-to-be flush Glens, and it seems perverse that a team who under-performed so badly most of the season is now just 90 minutes away from Europe.

And you have to feel for McAree and the Bannsiders too. They were seconds away from a place in Saturday's final when Cliftonville were given the softest of penalties.

It knocked the stuffing out of them and they went on to lose 5-3 in extra-time.

It sets up a Belfast derby for a place in Europe with the Glens travelling to Solitude on Saturday evening, and well done to BBC NI for covering the game live.

After 14 goals in the two semi-finals, let's hope they have a few more in them for the final and, while it is hard to stomach for those who feel wronged and raw at the moment, it is certainly much preferable to all those seasons that trudged on to a pointless conclusion for so many years.

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