Belfast Telegraph

Is it a window of opportunity or a last throw of the dice?

Darren McCauley
Darren McCauley

By Graham Luney

It's that time of the year when managers' mobile phone bills shoot up.

The big question worrying Danske Bank Premiership bosses in the January transfer is 'deal or no deal?'

Even the top clubs in great shape can't stand still because when you do that in football you end up being overtaken.

The secret to success is improving and strengthening, even when you're the best.

We're now fast approaching the business end of the season when some big questions are going to be answered and decisions made by managers this month could make the difference between glory and despair, survival and relegation.

Will Linfield get their hands on a trophy this season? Can Crusaders maintain their title push? Who will secure the financially lucrative European spots and can Ards escape the drop?

The future prosperity of the leading Premiership clubs depends largely on the huge cash windfall that comes with continental action. How Glentoran have missed those financial resources while a club like Crusaders threatens to disappear over the horizon.

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And Champions League qualification can lead to a cash gift as much as £1million so the stakes are high.

Even before the January business gathered pace, arguably the biggest signing of the season was completed and respect to Joe Gormley for showing loyalty to the Reds when no doubt he could have bagged more money elsewhere.

It could be argued that Larne have muddied the domestic transfer waters with their big spending approach under PurpleBricks owner Kenny Bruce.

When players like Coleraine's Darren McCauley and Ballymena United's Johnny McMurray could be available for transfer, you expect the Inver Park side to join the chase.

McCauley, tracked by Inverness, Crusaders, Larne and Cork City, requested a move while McMurray is considering his options.

Then there's Institute goal machine Michael McCrudden wanted by Derry City, Coleraine, Glenavon and Ballymena United as well as League One side Port Vale.

Institute boss Paddy McLaughlin is fighting to keep hold of his skipper but the lure of a move up the Premiership ladder could be too tempting.

January isn't an easy time for managers to do business as the best players are usually on long-term deals and why would any boss allow a rival to strengthen at their expense?

But just like in the Next sale, there can be a few bargains if you look hard enough.

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter, now going at it full-time, has been particularly busy and he's added real quality in the shape of goalkeeper Ger Doherty, rising young star Reece McGinley and the Hale brothers, Rory and Ronan.

Rory has made two appearances and has already stamped his class on the artificial surface on the Shore Road.

It's starting to look like a heavyweight fight between Linfield and Crusaders for the big prizes and both squads have a championship winning look to them.

In the fight for survival, Ards boss Colin Nixon has reshuffled his pack, bringing in Brendan Bennett, Jonathan Smith on loan, Darren Henderson, Daryl Evans and Eoghan McCawl.

There's been interesting developments at Glenavon where Mark Sykes and Ben Doherty departed but midfielder Robbie Garrett has arrived from Linfield.

Comedian Billy Connolly once said: 'If you haven't heard a good rumour by 11am start one' and the Irish League family can relate to that.

Stand by for more surprises, on and off the pitch.

Belfast Telegraph

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