Former Linfield hero Mark Stafford has backed dynamic Blues duo Trai Hume and Callum Marshall to hit the ground running following their big moves to England.
Northern Ireland Under-21 international Trai Hume has joined Sunderland for a transfer fee believed to be in the region of £200,000.
Another teenager, striker Callum Marshall, has moved to Premier League side West Ham.
Glenavon defender Stafford watched Hume progress through the ranks at Windsor Park and is thrilled to see him land a dream move.
“When I signed for Glenavon I had a few injury problems and had to do my time with the Swifts for a few weeks and I could not get over Trai, a skinny young lad playing centre midfield,” recalls Stafford.
“I couldn’t get over how tenacious and hard he was in a tackle, he was obviously very brave and very good technically as well.
“You don’t know how players will develop but Trai just kept improving over the years.
“He worked at his game and kept getting better. Trai travelled on the European trips and did the Marbella training camp. I got to see him a lot and there was always talk he would have a bright future.
“A move never came off but every summer you heard rumours of a move and he was highly rated in the under-21s and was Linfield Swifts captain and training with the first team. Everyone could see his potential and quality.”
Stafford earned hero status at Windsor Park, helping the club land four league titles, two Irish Cups, a League Cup and a County Antrim Shield during an amazing six years with the Blues.
Like everyone else involved in the domestic game, the experienced centre-back loves to see hard work and talent rewarded.
“It says a lot about the coaching at club level and support network for the boys,” he added. “You need to have the right attitude and mentality to make it at Linfield and the young lads just keep improving.
“It’s fantastic to see what can happen if you put the work in.
“The club also benefits from a transfer fee which is almost as good as money you get for qualifying for Europe.”
Stafford and his Glenavon team-mates are now focused on a first round Irish Cup battle with Crusaders at Mourneview Park tomorrow night.
“It’s a massive game for us,” said the former Ballinamallard United ace. “We had a good result against them at Mourneview but they had a dip in their form. They are now on a high and have been keeping clean sheets. A good friend of mine, Chris Hegarty, is back in the team and he’s making a big difference.
“They also kept a clean sheet at Cliftonville and that takes some doing. We want a run in the Irish Cup, especially after the League Cup is gone.”
Carrick Rangers, meanwhile, have announced the pre-contract signing of Cameron Stewart on a two-year deal.
Stewart will arrive at the Loughview Leisure Arena at the start of the 2022/23 campaign, on the expiry of his current contract with Glentoran.
The 24-year-old has expressed his desire to play in his preferred position of centre-half and so will bolster Rangers’ defensive options next season.
Stewart told the club’s website: “I am absolutely delighted to be signing for Carrick Rangers. The Club has big plans and without a doubt is going in the right direction.
“I am extremely excited about getting back into football in a positive environment and after speaking with Stuart (King) and Peter (Clarke), I immediately felt wanted and that the Club was the right place for me.
“I have watched a good few of Carrick’s games and there is an extremely hard-working and talented group of players that I am confident I can add to.”