Ruaidhrí Donnelly snubs Larne to stay at Cliftonville after penning deals with both clubs
In-demand striker Ruaidhrí Donnelly has reneged on an agreement to quit Cliftonville and sign for ambitious and big-spending Larne.
Sunday Life Sport can exclusively reveal that - in a scenario reminiscent of Josh Robinson snubbing Crusaders for Linfield in the summer of 2017 - the former Swansea City and Gillingham forward caused ructions at both Solitude and Inver Park last week by signing deals to play for BOTH clubs. The 27-year-old ace is out of contract with the Reds in the summer and, with six months of his terms remaining, was discussing a future deal with Cliftonville and Larne.
The east Antrim side were hoping the lure of full-time football at Inver Park would be enough to land their target, while the Reds remained confident Donnelly would stay at the club that gave him his breakthrough in the game.
It is understood the tipping point came last week when Cliftonville unveiled new signing Michael McCrudden, a talented striker who previously worked with Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin at Institute.
The acquisition prompted Donnelly to sign a pre-contract agreement with Larne and their owner Kenny Bruce informed Cliftonville Chairman Gerard Lawlor by telephone.
Larne even considered announcing the signing via their website but opted not to out of consideration for Cliftonville and the player himself.
However, Donnelly subsequently reconsidered, spoke to Cliftonville during the week and signed an extended deal at Solitude.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
Lawlor rang Bruce to relay the news and the conversation proved to be a heated exchange with the Larne owner threatening to take the matter further.
Sunday Life Sport can reveal that Lawlor then rang Bruce back on Friday to hold out an olive branch and the pair settled their differences immediately, realising that the tension had been prompted by the player’s actions rather than either club.
Larne were, however, left furious by Donnelly’s U-turn and Bruce yesterday took to social media to declare that his club were “withdrawing from any negotiations (because) it’s clear Cliftonville lead the race” — although he did not explicitly say that the player had already put pen to paper with his current employers.
Nor did boss McLaughlin when quizzed on the subject during the BBC’s live broadcast of Friday night’s Danske Bank Premiership encounter between Coleraine and Crusaders.
“He’d be a big loss, a massive coup for Larne because he’s one of the best in the League but he’d be a massive signing for us if we get him to stay on board,” he said.
“We’ve every confidence that we can get that done over the next couple of days.”
Larne had hoped that securing Donnelly’s signature on pre-contract terms with a view to a summer switch would give them leverage in discussions over a potential transfer this month.
Indeed, manager Tiernan Lynch last week said: “We make no bones about being very interested in Ruaidhrí Donnelly.
“Whether a deal can be done in January or not, I don’t know.”
But Cliftonville sources have poured cold water on rumours that the Invermen offered £10,000 to take the striker early and always maintained they were confident of re-signing Donnelly.
Now that the two clubs have accepted Donnelly will be staying at Solitude, Cliftonville will confirm his re-signing in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Donnelly’s younger brother Jay has signed a deal with Ballymena Intermediate League side Belfast Celtic after a spell in prison and a period in footballing limbo.
The 24-year-old, who was sacked by the Reds last April after his jailing for distributing an indecent image of a child, was never on Larne’s radar, despite their interest in Ruaidhrí.
Ballymena United, Crusaders, Glenavon, Warrenpoint Town and Institute also passed up the opportunity to sign the talented forward, who scored on his Hoops debut in yesterday’s 6-2 defeat of Cookstown Youth.
One player who has this week headed through the exit door at Inver is defender Shane McEleney.
The 28-year-old former Derry City, St Patrick’s Athletic and Ottawa Fury centre-half has joined SSE Airtricity League Premier Division side Finn Harps, having played a key role in Larne’s Bluefin Sport Championship title success last term.
“Shane goes with our thanks for everything he has helped us to achieve” said boss Lynch.
“He was coming out of contract in the summer and this opportunity to join Finn Harps now allows him to be part of their pre-season preparations and play a full part in their League of Ireland of campaign.
“We thank him for all of his contribution and wish him well.”