Four Irish League clubs make signings as seven Premiership players move on busy transfer deadline day
The Irish League's transfer deadline day sprung into life on Thursday afternoon before a total of seven Danske Bank Premiership players moved, while Larne made a significant signing at the top of the Championship.
Arguably the most high-profile move of the day came when Ballymena United landed the signing of former Linfield defender Albert Watson.
Larne had been hopeful they could lure the 33-year-old to Inver Park but the title-challenging Braidmen have won the battle with Watson signing a deal until the end of the season.
He previously spent ten seasons at Ballymena, making 316 appearances and scoring ten goals. After making his debut against Institute at the age of 16, Watson went on to become the club's youngest ever captain. He departed in 2011 for Windsor Park, where he won back to back league and cup doubles.
United's derby rivals Coleraine followed suit by signing a centre-half in the closing minutes of the window. The Bannsiders brought in Glenavon centre-back Dylan King on a 2.5 year deal. The former Oldham player joined the Lurgan Blues in the summer and started 17 Premiership matches but has now moved on.
"Dylan is good in the air and reads the game extremely well," Coleraine boss Rod McAree told the club website. "He has experience of playing across the water and I know he is eager to get started at Coleraine. He has his best years ahead of him and we are looking forward to working with him."
There were two arrivals at Cliftonville, beginning with Institute midfielder Aaron Harkin. He had already signed a pre-contract deal to move to Solitude in the summer but the 25-year-old's move was accelerated as he joins his brother Ruairi at the Reds.
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The second arrival at Solitude came via the loan signing of Glenavon midfielder Niall Grace. He's one of three of Glenavon's summer signings to move after just half a season. The 26-year-old started only seven league matches since his move from Institute. Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton said the player will return in the summer after getting game-time at Cliftonville.
Those two arrivals have both, of course, played under Institute boss Paddy McLaughlin in recent seasons.
They could be set for a swift reunion after McLaughlin confirmed that the Reds have asked his current club for permission to speak with him with a view to becoming Barry Gray's successor at Solitude.
“I’ve been told that Cliftonville has made contact with Institute,” he told the Derry Journal. "They’re one of the biggest clubs in the north and it’s nice to be mentioned."
Ards also added to their panel with a loan deal, the Danske Bank Premiership's basement club bringing in Damien McNulty from the Reds. The 27-year-old moved to Cliftonville from Carrick Rangers last summer but has played in only four Premiership games since his arrival.
Added to Grace and King, Glenavon let another two players leave on deadline day. Gary Muir, another summer signing, left the club by mutual consent while Jack O'Mahony returned to Harland and Wolff Welders on loan.
In the Championship, champions elect Larne secured a permanent deal for midfielder Fuad Sule. The 22-year-old joined on loan from Barnet in the summer and has now committed to the club with a 2.5 year deal.
“It has been a long process, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get a player of this quality," manager Tiernan Lynch told the club website.
“We are aware there was interest from elsewhere, and we have had to fight off from clubs in the Irish League and League of Ireland. However, he was very keen to stay here. Fuad has been a big part of our season and he’s passionate about wanting to help us to kick on and be part of the long-term vision for the club, and ultimately trying to deliver European football at Inver Park."
Belfast Telegraph Digital