I’ll hold my hands up and admit I got it wrong.
When striker Paul O’Neill moved from Glentoran to Cliftonville as part of the Conor McMenamin deal which saw the Downpatrick man transfer to The Oval along with some cash, I honestly thought the Reds had the better deal.
I expected Paul, who I had been very impressed with while watching the Northern Ireland Under-21s, to kick on at Solitude and, in time, secure a move across the water.
Instead, he sadly stagnated in Cliftonville colours apart from the odd flourish such as last season’s BetMcLean League Cup Final when he came off the bench to score two crucial goals and make the difference. But that was a rarity.
Maybe it was a lack of full-time training, something he had been used to at Glentoran.
It frustrates the life out of me when a player doesn’t fulfil their potential, so I’m hoping the move to Larne will breathe new life into Paul’s career.
He is only 22, still just a pup, but in today’s football world the conveyor belt moves fast and he can easily be overtaken by the next crop of talent.
At Inver Park he’ll return to full-time training and I anticipate he’ll embrace the challenge that lies ahead at Larne. He managed to get himself on the scoresheet yesterday in a friendly against Ards, and Tiernan Lynch will be looking for Paul to form a lethal partnership with Lee Bonis.
It will all be about consistency — starting regularly, performing to a high standard each and every week and scoring plenty of goals.
Paul’s focus needs to only be on Larne. He needs to reignite his career and Larne have given him the chance to do that.
In contrast, McMenamin is the player who has a serious chance of making it across the water and I would be surprised if he remains at The Oval for much longer.
After a great season personally, Conor came into the international set-up for June’s Nations League games and certainly didn’t look out of place in the squad — in fact, he stood out at times as Northern Ireland’s most dangerous threat.
Clubs in England and Scotland will have noticed — but it has to be the right move for Conor, giving him plenty of opportunity for game time.
Conor’s progression to the Northern Ireland squad also shows once again the pathway available to Irish League players and if you are making a difference in the Danske Bank Premiership and international manager Ian Baraclough believes you will benefit his squad, then he isn’t afraid to call you up.
After releasing David McDaid and Ronan Hale, Larne needed a signing of the calibre of young O’Neill.
They have 15-odd points to make up on Linfield if they want to be serious title contenders.
The move could be a great bit of business for Larne and for O’Neill to kickstart his career again.
It certainly will add to the drama of the season and hopefully young O’Neill will prove me right in the end.
The two games against Manchester United were really good exercises for the Northern Ireland Under-18s at last week’s SuperCupNI.
It was a massive test for the Northern Ireland boys — a real education and experience. But in defeat, I felt the players in green shirts acquitted themselves really well. I was part of the Northern Ireland coaching set-up and was immensely proud.
For many of the lads, this would have been the first time they would have performed in front of such a big crowd, the game was being streamed live on the BBC and they were coming up against a team packed full of top-quality talent.
The majority of players in the Man United team were a year older while, just a few months ago, they won the FA Youth Cup.
It was an ominous task, especially with only one day of preparation, but the lads rose to the challenge and had United on the ropes in the first game having gone two goals up before eventually losing 3-2.
It may have been billed as an exhibition but it was far from it.
The lads will have learned so much coming up against that calibre of player and it is something they should want to aspire to in their own playing careers.
Without naming names, a few of our players really caught the eye and I know from talking to Jimmy Nicholl and Northern Ireland Under-21 manager John Schofield after the games that they were greatly impressed.
There were scouts and representatives of clubs at the games and our players have given them something to think about.
It was a quick turnaround — just a day’s rest — between the two matches, but it will stand them in good stead as tournament football is always a hectic experience.
Most of our players are just 17 and in 2024, when Northern Ireland host the Elite stages of the Under-19 Euros, the boys who played in the SuperCupNI will be primed and in great shape when that tournament comes around.
Against Manchester United, they proved they are a decent team. Now they have to continually improve and develop and hopefully come 2024 they’ll be able to have a great tournament on home soil.