Larne's big spending doesn't frighten Portadown, says excited boss Matthew Tipton
Portadown manager Matthew Tipton is intent on leading the club back into the Danske Bank Premiership and insists there will be no fear factor at Shamrock Park about taking on big-spending Larne in the Bluefin Sport Championship.
Rarely has there been so much interest ahead of a Championship season.
Put that down to fascinating developments at Inver Park, the money invested in Larne by Purplebricks multi-millionaire Kenny Bruce and a never-ending stream of impressive signings which mean they are favourites to earn promotion to the top-flight.
Tipton has other ideas. He left Warrenpoint Town last season to take charge of the Ports, where he was a firm favourite as a player, and is relishing the campaign ahead, which begins with a mid-Ulster derby away to Loughgall tomorrow night.
While Larne have been involved in some notable transfers, the Ports have made eye-catching moves themselves, bringing in Darren Murray, after a short spell at Crusaders, and Ballymena's Kevin Braniff to the club.
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Perhaps the best recruit of the lot could be highly-rated left-sided player Jerry Thompson from Larne, while Johnny Flynn offers experience and leadership qualities.
"We came in with seven games to go last season and had some good performances. We want to pick up from there and make sure we hit the ground running," said Tipton.
"We know Larne are seen as runaway favourites but we are not frightened by that. We have to embrace it and try and inspire our players to be up there challenging with them.
"Taking Portadown back to the top-flight was what I came back to the club for. I was happy with the job I was doing at Warrenpoint and wouldn't have left only that Portadown came calling.
"It is a massive opportunity to try and get the club back to the Premiership, where I believe we belong, and kick on from there."
Tipton labels Thompson 'a smashing player' and says he expects 'big things' from Murray and Braniff, adding that along with Adam Salley, Chris Lavery and Sean Mackle he is excited by his side's attacking threat. The manager's 15-year-old son, promising striker George, will also be part of the first-team squad.
Larne begin their quest for top-flight football away to Knockbreda on Saturday.
Former Northern Ireland ace Jeff Hughes, who has arrived from Tranmere, will be a big player for manager Tiernan Lynch, while ex-MK Dons youngsters Ben Tilney and Andrew Osei-Bonsu will aim to be major influences too, as will Tomas Cosgrove, who has joined from Cliftonville.
Lynch is a shrewd character and, while well aware his side are expected to finish top of the table, don't expect him to take anything for granted.
He knows sides like Tipton's Portadown and Ballinamallard, under the guidance of Harry McConkey, could be tough nuts to crack in the race to go up.
McConkey almost inspired the Fermanagh outfit to a survival miracle in the Premiership after becoming boss in the latter part of last season.
The Mallards have lost key players but crucially they kept McConkey, whose side host Limavady on Saturday.
There will also be interest in how H&W Welders perform this season given that former Linfield midfielder Norman Kelly has taken over as boss from Gary Smyth, who is now part of the Glentoran management team.
Kelly's first league game is at home to Carrick Rangers, who were relegated from the top-flight last season via the play-off.
Since then, David McAlinden has left the hotseat with experienced ex-Portadown and Ards boss Niall Currie replacing him.
Currie's men may be dark horses for a play-off spot.
Also on Saturday in the Championship, Ballyclare visit PSNI and Dundela host Dergview.
Bluefin Championship fixtures: Loughgall v Portadown (Friday 7.45pm), Ballinamallard v Limavady, Dundela v Dergview, H&W Welders v Carrick Rangers, Knockbreda v Larne, PSNI v Ballyclare Comrades (Saturday 3pm).