We’ve reached an exciting point in this save as I’ve managed to qualify for European competition, courtesy of my Irish Cup win over Portadown. There is added intrigue as we’ll be competing in the brand new third tier of europe – the UEFA European Conference League (branded as EURO Cup II in FM).
Why is Europe so much of a big deal for Irish clubs? Because the income for simply competing dwarfs the prize money on offer for any other competition we enter. This money has the potential to totally change the dynamic of the league with the signings it can help to fund.
Wheeling and Dealing
We acted quickly in the summer window with European competition coming early into pre-season. Having released 3 first team players (Gary Deegan, Tom Byrne and Calum Birney) and allowing two others to move elsewhere on the conclusion of their contracts (Antonio Djuric and Marijan Antolovic both to Inter Zapresic), there was ample wiggle room in our wage budget to make moves.
Aston Oxborough (GK) and Ethan Patterson (DC) extended their loan deals with the clubs for a further season and six months respectively.
We filled our gap at left back by signing up Josh Doherty on a free from Crawley Town, the ex-NI U21 international is versatile enough to also be able to fill in at centre back. Speaking of versatile, we also brought in Swede Markus Assarsson on a free from Bolton. Markus is capable of playing in defense, defensive midfield and centre midfield.
Rotation of the highly worked midfield spots could prove key to any further success this season so we have strengthened a lot in that area. Tom Adeyemi was a free signing from Crewe Alexandra. Cammy Palmer is a free signing from Rangers FC, he’s a player I’ve been tracking for around 18 months in-game so it feels good to finally bring him in!
The final two new signings have a more attacking mindset. Conor Bradley is a positive result of my scouting of NI youth teams, a young winger with plenty of potential signed on a free transfer from Liverpool. Niklas Haugland comes in on a season loan from Leeds, we’ll be hoping that he can go some way to replacing David Parkhouse’s 29 goals from last season.
I was delighted with early wins over Bala Town and St Johnstone which set us up nicely for a comprehensive victory over two legs against Balzan Youths in the UEFA European Conference League – damning proof that you’ll never win anything with kids.
A routine victory against East Kilbride was our preparation for a dream fmadventure derby against Fm19’s FC Groningen! We let an early 2 goal lead slip in the first leg meaning the second leg was always an uphill battle – one which we performed well in nonetheless. Our annual Dundela friendly closed out pre-season for another year.
Overall I’m very pleased with our first outing in Europe and the fact it netted us a cool £142k in prize money!
Our opening fixture of the 2021/22 NIFL Premiership season was such an odd one. Ballymena came out of the blocks firing and were 2 up after 23 minutes, we didn’t show any signs of a fightback and I feared that pre-season had been a false dawn.
The team rallied, though, and stormed through the next five league fixtures picking up a maximum 15 points with 17 goals scored and only 2 conceded! Newly promoted Newry was an expected result but the same could not be said for Cliftonville as we blew them out of the water by finishing the game off by half time! Coleraine are another top half team and I was delighted to see us push them aside with relative ease before welcoming cash cows Larne to the Oval for another convincing win! A solid victory over Championship Knockbreda allows us to progress in the NIFL Cup with youngster Christopher Morrison bagging a brace before heading out to Newry on loan for the rest of the season.
The most pleasing result of the season so far is without a doubt our 3-0 humbling of cross city rivals Linfield! The Blues were incredibly lucky to escape relegation last season and it showed as they barely put up any opposition to loanee Haugland as he took his tally to 6 league goals in 6 league games.
Despite our impressive early form, it is Glenavon (Champions for two years running) that are setting the pace early on with 16 points from six games played. Larne are struggling already despite their extensive cash reserves.
Follow The Purple Brick Road
I’m at a total loss as to how I can explain the reason for Larne’s woes! Having had a takeover by Purple Bricks owner Kenny Bruce 2017, the County Antrim side have had a massive financial boost – much like ourselves.
Larne’s wage bill is simply incredible – 3 times that of the second highest spenders and a massive £1.7m more per year than Carrick! They’re also the highest net spenders in transfers with £50k splashed out this season.
Larne have 10 players on £2k/week or more – for comparison, my highest paid player is on £550/week. The Invermen are now on their third manager in three seasons of this save with Tiernan Lynch sacked in December 2019, Colin Clarke sacked in February 2021 (a 43% win percentage) and ex-Linfield manager David Healy currently at the helm with 4 wins in his 13 games played so far.
The Larne-Glentoran rivalry has been gleefully coined as El Cashico but it’s clear so far in this save that the smart money is truly on the side from East Belfast!