The Irish League Preview of the Week

Dr. Grant Campbell of the ‘Campbell’s Footballs’ podcast (a.k.a. Stato) discusses his predictions and thoughts each week in the Danske Bank Premiership in Northern Ireland. Grant will provide his thoughts on the upcoming league matches and offers his predictions.

MatchesStato’s PredictionsActual scoreline
Crusaders v Larne1-03-3
Ballymena United v Cliftonville2-1P-P
Carrick Rangers v Portadown1-1P-P
Coleraine v Dungannon Swifts2-02-0 (3pts)
Linfield v Warrenpoint Town4-06-0 (1pt)
Glenavon v Glentoran2-1P-P

I got one perfect score and two correct outcomes out of three this week which was not bad at all.

Before we start this week, I just want to say that the Crusaders v Larne game on Sky Sports on Saturday was a quite superb game of football between two excellent footballing sides. It was a great advert for the Northern Irish Premiership, particularly as we saw two outstanding strikes from Larne’s Ronan Hale and Crusaders’ Jamie McGonigle. I think a draw was a fair result for both teams in the end.

Player of the week: Andrew Waterworth (Linfield)

Linfield laid down a marker on Saturday with a 6-0 home win over Warrenpoint Town and the man who got four goals in this game, Andy Waterworth (pictured), is this week’s player of the week (for the second time this season!).

Irish Premiership: Waterworth scores four as leaders Linfield hit  Warrenpoint for six - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

Waterworth’s quartet of goals set Linfield on their way to victory after a sensational second half display. The Blues were held 0-0 at half time as Warrenpoint frustrated the champions for large spells but David Healy’s side reacted superbly to score six second half goals, with Waterworth, Jordan Stewart and Navid Nasseri all netting.

Andy continues his ever impressive set of statistics too. The evergreen centre forward has now scored more than three goals in a match in an outstanding twelve matches during a quite remarkable career. It is also the fourth time Andy has scored four in a match which is sensational. Waterworth now moves onto 11 goals in all competitions so far this season and like a fine wine, continues to get better with age. It would not surprise me if he goes onto win the top goal scorer prize come the end of the season.

There’s no doubt about it that Linfield have themselves an ever growing living legend still playing for them. His goals will massively contribute to the Blues this season especially if they go onto lift the Premiership title come the end.

Until this performance, I was going to give it to Larne’s Ronan Hale for *that* outstanding goal against Crusaders as well as his all round display at Seaview but Andy has to get this for another individual masterclass (Sorry Ronan and all Larne fans!).

Team of the week: Coleraine

I am giving this week’s team of the week to Coleraine.

Coleraine FC

Oran Kearney’s side last lost to Dungannon earlier in the season but reversed that 2-0 defeat at Stangmore Park from earlier in the season to record a fourth straight league victory and continue their upward trajectory, moving up to fifth place in the table.

It was good to see Aaron Jarvis get on the scoresheet but the game will be remembered for a quite incredible goal from Eoin Bradley. In a league where we have seen so many good goals so far this season, Bradley’s stunning strike must enter the discussion, along with Hale’s for Larne at the weekend. It was caught absolutely flush and gave the Dungannon goalkeeper, Sam Johnston, no chance.

Now onto the midweek fixtures and my predictions.

Tuesday 26th January – Cliftonville v Linfield, Solitude, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI

Cliftonville will try again to get their season back up and running after their weekend game at Ballymena was called off due to inclement weather.

Paddy McLaughlin’s side have just won two of their last nine matches in the league and really need to find some consistency if they are going to have a strong second half to the campaign. It’s been a stop-start season for the Reds attacking players and perhaps the break will have given Michael McCrudden and Ryan Curran an opportunity to refocus and go again. The loss of Joe Gormley (pictured) to a serious elbow injury though will be a big loss for the Reds. I want to wish Joe a speedy recovery.

I have also not been convinced by the Reds at all this season defensively. Cliftonville have conceded two goals in three of their last five matches.

Cliftonville striker Joe Gormley signs new contract with the club - Belfast  Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Linfield were superb in the second half at home to Warrenpoint at the weekend and although Waterworth grabbed most of the headlines, the performances of the dynamic duo of Navid Nasseri (pictured) and Jordan Stewart would have massively impressed David Healy.

Nasseri shines as Linfield get the job done early in Co Antrim Shield -
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

I think Linfield will have their tails up after that impressive showing at the weekend and follow it up here with an away win at Solitude. The Reds have an awful record against their Belfast rivals and have not win at home against the Blues since 2017.

I do not see that changing here.

Stato’s Prediction: Cliftonville 1-3 Linfield

Tuesday 26th January – Dungannon v Glenavon, Stangmore Park, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI

Dungannon need to get a win quickly.

The Swifts had lost their last five in a row, with three of those coming at home. They were decent at Coleraine on Saturday but passed up far too many opportunities and got punished for it.

I feel a bit sorry for guys like Kris Lowe (pictured) who have been really good so far this campaign. Dungannon are a side who need creativity and Lowe has been a constant mainstay of everything good from the Swifts over the last few years. If it clicks for him more consistently, and for the Swifts collectively, they will be a better side for it.

Battling Swifts edge out 'Stute in end to end five-goal thriller -
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

Glenavon will also try again after their match at home to Glentoran was postponed due to poor weather in Lurgan on Saturday.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, Glenavon have been really unlucky not to have accumulated more points from their last five matches.

Gary Hamilton’s men have taken seven points from their last fifteen available but they did lead at home to Linfield and away at Larne in the two games that they lost, plus they dominated the match against Cliftonville and only got a point. Danny Purkis has found his shooting boots though having scored in his last three consecutive matches and that will be important if the Lurgan Blues are going to make the top six or higher this season.

I also think they are starting to build a consistent, solid back line of which former Crusaders league winning defenders Colin Coates (pictured) and Sean Ward have been a big part of. Coates, in particular, is a winner and I feel he has aspirations of winning silverware and having some more success before he hangs up his boots.

Colin Coates: Numbers game adds up as experienced Glenavon defender looks  to win back place in team - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

I think the Lurgan Blues will narrowly win this game. Glenavon should have won the reverse fixture at Mourneview Park earlier in the campaign but I think they are a better team now and will make it count on Tuesday night.

Stato’s Prediction: Dungannon 1-2 Glenavon

Tuesday 26th January – Glentoran v Carrick Rangers, The Oval, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI

Glentoran have found some form of late and I’m sure would have been looking to try and continue that run at Glenavon at the weekend but the game was postponed. They try again here at home to Carrick Rangers, a side they blew away 6-0 earlier in the season.

Since their defeat at Crusaders, the Glens have been unbeaten in their last four and have scored nine goals in that run. They still have a lot of work to do if they want to qualify for European football though and if they are going to do that, the goals of Paul O’Neill, Rory Donnelly (pictured) and Robbie McDaid will be vital.

Glentoran complete deadline day signing of Cliftonville striker Ruaidhri  Donnelly - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

I really feel sorry for Carrick Rangers as they simply have not had a chance to build any momentum into their season only playing nine league matches so far this campaign, the lowest of any side in the Irish League. A combination of games being postponed due to COVID-19 and the inclement weather have affected the Amber Army more than most.

Carrick’s last league game saw them lose out 3-0 at Coleraine but Niall Currie’s side played admirably in that match and the outcome could and should have been very different if Caolan Loughran had converted from the penalty spot with the score at 0-0.

This game sees former Glentoran midfielder Jonny Frazer (pictured) make a return to his old club. Frazer was praised very highly on the recent That’s What I Call Football podcast by current Glentoran manager Mick McDermott for his work rate and contributions, particularly in steering the Glens to Irish Cup success last summer.

Jonny Frazer (@Jonny_Frazer_7) | Twitter
Acknowledgement: Jonny Frazer/Twitter

Sadly for Jonny and Carrick, I think Glentoran will win this game here on Tuesday night. I don’t think it’ll be the same score line but I do think the Glens will take the points reasonably comfortably.

Stato’s Prediction: Glentoran 3-0 Carrick Rangers

Tuesday 26th January – Larne v Coleraine, Inver Park, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI

I’m not sure whether this was two points dropped by Larne or not following that 3-3 draw with Crusaders at the weekend.

Having led 2-0 and 3-2, you would argue that it probably was. However, Crusaders had not dropped any points and had only conceded once at Seaview prior to the visit of Larne so for the Inver Men to take something from the game was certainly not a disaster for Tiernan Lynch’s side.

The game will be remembered for Ronan Hale’s stunning opening goal (pictured) but I was also impressed with the performances of Fuad Sule, Marty Donnelly and substitute Johnny McMurray. Larne, though, need to learn to cut out silly mistakes in key moments. I felt the second and third goals in this game were both avoidable, especially the penalty concession late on.

Irish Premiership: Crusaders hold Larne in six-goal thriller - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: Ronan Hale

Coleraine are on fire at the moment.

Oran Kearney’s men had won their last four games and are finding their feet in front of goal. Eoin Bradley (pictured), in particular, looks like he is back to his best and I was once again impressed with the performances of Jamie Glackin and substitute Matthew Shevlin on Saturday against Dungannon. Evan Tweed is also growing into that Coleraine midfield too.

How It Happened: Coleraine 2 Dungannon Swifts 0 | Coleraine Times
Acknowledgement: Coleraine Times

Games between these two sides are usually littered with goals. Since 2003, there has only been one goalless draw.

Larne won the last meeting between the two sides at the Coleraine Showgrounds but the Bannsiders look a better side now especially with a few players back from injury, particularly in defence.

If Larne have aspirations of pushing for the title, they need to win these games, especially at home. For Coleraine though, if they win this, they are right back in the battle for European football.

As a result, I cannot separate the two and I am going for an entertaining draw.

Stato’s Prediction: Larne 2-2 Coleraine

Tuesday 26th January – Portadown v Crusaders, Shamrock Park, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI

Portadown are the only side without a home win in the Premiership so far and face Crusaders on Tuesday night, the side who beat them 5-0 just before Christmas.

Matthew Tipton’s men have only won one of their last seven matches and have conceded seven goals in their last two games played albeit away from home at Crusaders and Glentoran.

I am intrigued to see if Portadown will stick with Ben Pierce in goal or give new signing Jacob Carney (pictured) a run in between the sticks. Carney was on the books at Manchester United and regularly featured for the Red Devils’ Under 18s and debuted for the U23s in January last year. Tipton has also brought in former Larne defender Ben Tilney, Sean Warde and Gareth Buchanan who will all add depth and contribute to Portadown for the second half of the season. They are all savvy signings.

Portadown boss pleased to sign United youngster Jacob Carney - United In  Focus
Acknowledgement: United In Focus

Crusaders will feel they gained a point after twice being behind at home to Larne on Saturday. Jamie McGonigle showed what he can do with a fine goal but I was impressed with the committed performances of Philip Lowry and Billy Joe Burns (pictured right) at the weekend. When these two are at their best, Crusaders seldom lose and in the second half they stepped up a gear or two and really contributed to the Crues fightback.

Crusaders 3-3 Larne: Baxter hails 'dominant' Crues after thrilling draw  with Larne - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

I think the Crues will nick this game at Shamrock on Tuesday night in a competitive game where both teams need the points for different reasons. I do not think it will be as one sided as the game at Seaview that’s for sure.

Stato’s Prediction: Portadown 1-2 Crusaders

Tuesday 26th January – Warrenpoint Town v Ballymena United, Milltown, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI

Warrenpoint were on the end of a Linfield hurricane in the second half at Windsor Park on Saturday.

They did play well for much of the game up until Waterworth opened the scoring but once the first went in, sadly, the flood gates opened for Barry Gray’s team. Goalkeeper Gabriel Sava (pictured) had no chance with many of the goals and without his saves it might have been even worse. Games against Linfield won’t define Warrenpoint’s season but they do need to bounce back and this game against Ballymena presents an opportunity for them to do that.

Warrenpoint Town FC » 1 Gabriel Sava
Acknowledgement: Warrenpoint Town

There was one team who did not need the break for two weeks and that was the Sky Blues. I am sure they also did not need their game being postponed either at home to Cliftonville as they had real momentum heading into that match.

Ballymena had gone seven games unbeaten before the shutdown and David Jeffrey’s side have only conceded two goals in that run. Players such as Kofi Balmer and Josh Kelly (pictured) have been hitting form at the right time and they just looked so comfortable in a majority of matches. Jeffrey’s sides are usually fairly solid, especially in defence, and after a slow start to the campaign, they are definitely flying now.

My Sky Blues were fired up to avoid an upset reveals proud Jeffrey -
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

Only Glenavon and Crusaders have won at Milltown so far this season though, which backs up my reasoning that getting a win there is often a very tough place to go.

Warrenpoint are usually competitive against Ballymena and I expect them to react to that Linfield loss and get a draw here.

Stato’s Prediction: Warrenpoint 1-1 Ballymena

Players to scout:

Part 1: Ronan Hale (Larne) and Rory Hale (Cliftonville)

There is a Part 1 and 2 to my Players to Scout feature this week as I choose two sets of brothers.

In Part 1, I will be showcasing the careers of Ronan Hale at Larne and Rory Hale at Cliftonville.

Derry City new boys Rory and Ronan Hale aiming for England return - The  Irish News
Acknowledgement: Irish News

Ronan (pictured) began his career in 2017 at Birmingham City, where he spent two years as a professional. Hale then moved on loan move to Derry City, with he scored seven goals in 31 games under the current NI international women’s football manager Kenny Shiels. Ronan was also a part of the Derry City League of Ireland Cup side who won the trophy in 2018

After leaving St Andrews, Ronan joined Crusaders in January 2019, becoming the fourth member of the family to have played for the Belfast side. Hale was part of the Crusaders squad who won the County Antrim Shield later that year. He then moved to Richmond Park last summer to begin a calendar year at St Patricks Athletic.

Since joining Larne last year, Hale has had some excellent performances and has scored four times this season, including three goals in his last three appearances after scoring in a 2-1 win at home to Glenavon and twice in that 3-3 draw at Seaview last weekend.

Ronan has also been part of the Larne side that won the County Antrim Shield earlier this campaign against Glentoran.

Ronan Hale (@ronanhale9) | Twitter
Acknowledgement: Ronan Hale Twitter/Larne

Rory Hale (pictured) is also an established football player and has recently made a return to Cliftonville where he was a member of the Reds Academy before joining Aston Villa in 2015, having connected with characters such as current Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce.

Rory Hale reveals Paddy McLaughlin talks which led to Cliftonville decision  - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Rory Hale Twitter/Cliftonville

Rory was also capped by the Republic of Ireland at under-21 level and is well known for his excellent distribution in passing which should be a big help to Paddy McLaughlin’s side.

Like Ronan, Rory joined Derry City and Crusaders before the two brothers parted to play for Larne and Cliftonville where they are currently at. Rory’s career is depicted really well in this episode of the Caught Offside Podcast.

Watch out for both players in the second half of the campaign as both will definitely contribute to their respective clubs with their direct play, composure on the ball and goals.

Useful Links and sources which you should check out:

NIFL Premiership Highlights Show:

The Score NI with Michael Clarke:

The Waffle – Irish League Podcast

That’s What I Call Football

Check out quality Irish League content from some of the Leagues top names:

Joel Taggart, Liam Beckett, Michael Clarke, Nicola McCarthy, Colin Hopkins, Steven Beacom, Mark McIntosh and find some of the characters I’ve interviewed so far by visiting the Campbell’s Footballs archive.

NIFL Premiership - Wikipedia

Published by Dr. Grant Campbell

My name is Grant and I am the host of "The only show where bad predictions are cancelled out by good craic": Campbell's Footballs. This podcast will host plenty of wild football predictions as well as interesting stories from a diverse range of guests from all life within football such as grassroots, media and journalism, ex-professionals and genuine football fans. Contributions, shout outs and conversations encouraged! In Association with music from Toby Johnson and Rory Hope.

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