THE short form 2020 NIFWA league season got underway this week, but it was a false start for Larne Ladies when difficulties with a pitch booking saw their opener away to Belfast Celtic postponed on Thursday night.

There were no such troubles for the Olympic side (pictured) on the same night as they got their Division 3A campaign underway against 22nd Ladies at The Cliff. Gary Hood’s side got off to a flyer with an emphatic 6-1 victory.

The match started as a cagey affair with the weather conditions not helping either team to get going. Larne started to gain momentum and the opening goal quickly followed when Laura Noble flicked a volleyed pass through to Courtney Watson. The Larne forward took on the full back and finished calmly inside the near post to put Larne ahead.
With both teams having chances at either end, Larne took one of their own to make it two. Laura Aicken played a ball over the top of the defence which found Laura Noble. who finished with composure into the bottom corner. On the stroke of half-time, 22nd Ladies got themselves back into the game with a great finish after some nice build up play.
Half time: Larne Ladies Olympic 2-1 22nd Ladies
Larne started the second half as they meant to go on, taking control of the game and creating more chances. Before long, it was Larne who extended their lead when Laura Noble pounced to poke the ball into in back of the net with a tidy left foot finish.
The home side continued to press and had control of the game. Abbie Quinn made it four with a great right footed effort from outside the box. Quinn lashed her shot high into the net leaving the goalkeeper with no chance to keep it out. 22nd Ladies didn’t give up though and they nearly pulled one back when a corner was superbly cleared off the line by Larne’s Aimee Shiels.
That gave the visitors a bit of encouragement but after glimpses of 22nd Ladies starting to create more chances, Larne made sure of the result. Mia Coffey travelled with the ball up the line and cut it back to Courtney Watson who, from 30 yards out,  hit an stunning strike leaving the goalkeeper stranded for the goal of the game. Larne finished the game strongly and grabbed their last of the night after a well worked found it’s way through to Laura Noble who flicked the ball into the net to complete her perfect hat-trick.
Full time: Larne Ladies Olympic 6-1 22nd Ladies
Larne: McGucken, Massey, Shiels, Laura Noble, Watson, Aicken, Haggan, Montgomery, Mitchell, Morton, Geoghegan.
Subs: Hodge, McCourt, Quinn, Coffey
Larne Ladies will try again to get their league season underway on 8 September (8pm) when they host Portadown at Inver Park, while the Olympic will look to build upon their opening day victory on Sunday week (12pm) away to Carnmoney Ladies.

There are different ways to write your name into the history books of a club – just ask Peter Lowry.

The diminutive right winger was a mainstay in the Larne team of the 1990’s and twenty years ago next month he ensured his name would be remembered for a significant milestone.

As so often happened the festive fixture list threw up a meeting between Larne and neighbours Carrick Rangers. The day after Boxing Day, 1999, Larne found themselves trailing 1-0 in the dying stages of the game.

It looked like we would end the year, and indeed the millennium, with a defeat to our name. That was until late brace of goals turned the game, and history books, on its head. Lowry stepped forward and managed to create a little bit of history, as he explains.

“We went to play Carrick on the day after Boxing Day,” he recalls.

“We were 1-0 down for quite a long time until I managed to get a late goal.

“Shortly after that I remember the ball was played through to me and I slipped the ball under Paul Kee to make it 2-1. It was great to win the game but it also meant I got the Larne’s last goal of the millennium, which was nice.”

“My young lad plays for one of Crusaders’ youth teams now and I still remind him about it!”

That memorable brace came in what would be Lowry’s final season at the club, after joining the club as a teenager seven years earlier, in 1993. He was brought to the club by then Larne Olympic boss – and soon to be Linfield assistant manager – Bryan McLoughlin.

“I worked with someone who was good friends with Brian at the time,” he explained.

“Bryan was in charge of the Olympic at that stage and he was looking to build the squad a bit. I was invited down towards the end of the 1993 season and enjoyed it. I was playing in the Amateur League at that stage.”

“I had a bit of contact from Linfield and Ballyclare when I was younger, but at that stage they probably weren’t too interested in welcoming a 16-year-old into the dressing room. I really enjoyed it at Larne and settled well, my first game for the Olympic was against Cliftonville.”

“I actually remember being at the Irish Cup Final Larne lost to Glentoran not that long before it (in 1987), and it was great to be able to join the club.”

Lowry’s progress from the Olympic to first team involved an interesting quirk of circumstances. Still involved with the Olympic team in pre-season, Lowry got his chance to impress the first team – albeit with a quick turnaround!

“The Olympic played a pre-season friendly out at the Rugby Club and I was in the squad for that,” Lowry explained

“I played the first half in that match and then I was told the I was wanted to play for the first team, in the second half of their friendly against Darlington! You don’t really think much about it at the time, but it was a great experience to be involved and play against those sort of players.

“So I had to make my way down to Inver and came on for the firsts. I must have done ok, and was involved with the first team from then on.”

For Lowry, stepping out of the Amateur League and getting his first taste of Irish League football, was something to relish.

“I went from playing in the Amateur League and paying dues to play, to getting some money to play football,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a lot of money! I think we got a fiver to cover our petrol, but you were getting a couple of quid and people were paying in to watch you. You were travelling to matches in a shirt and tie and it helped to remind you of the level you were playing at.

“Even though Larne were always a First Division club when I was there, it was a step up for me and I really enjoyed it.”

Like many others, as Lowry reflects on his time in the game, he freely admits many of his most enjoyable moments in the game came at Larne.

He added: “When you look back, it was the people at club who made it was it is. I enjoyed so many of the people I played with, people John McKinstry the captain, he really was gentleman John. Steven Douglas came through before going on to Portadown and Linfield. Some really good players like Tom McCourt. Jody and Marcus Hill are people I’m still in touch with and played alongside at Larne.

“I got on well with the managers in my time too. Good people like Shay Hamill, Byron Seymour who was assistant and Frankie Parks was always someone I enjoyed working under.”

It’s not just on the pitch where Lowry made connections during his time at the club.
“I remember I scored a hat-trick in the last game of the season against Ballyclare,” he said.

“I think we were something like 3-0 down inside 20 minutes, but we came storming back and I managed to get three of the goals, with Stevie Withers scoring the other two and we won 5-3. After the game I was looking for the matchball to keep as a souvenir and Sam Penney was laughing and asking me: ‘Are you sure you really want it?’

“Money was tight back then and I only just about got it, but that summed up Sam. He was a great character and did so much for the club, working on the pitch and everything else he did.

“There were a lot of good people about the club, Sam McCready the chairman and others, and that made it what it was.”

In the summer of 2000, Lowry was a man in demand, having shown his eye for goal on a regular basis at Inver Park. Ards, with significant investment behind them, were making a charge for the First Division title. They came looking for Lowry’s services and it was a lure too strong to turn down.

“I had got to the point where I had my heart set on trying to win something or get to a final,” he said.

“Ards were pretty strong at the time, with Trevor Anderson and Frankie Parks there. I really enjoyed working with Frankie at Larne and that was another big pull in going there. We managed to win the First Division and some success along the way.

“Shane Reddish took over eventually and I had a bit of a disagreement with him and moved on. When I look back on it, I wouldn’t say I regretted going to Ards, but the days I enjoyed the most in football came at Larne.”

A problem involving his hip led to Lowry hanging up his boots earlier than expected after a three-month stint at Carrick Rangers. Thankfully, after getting the all clear, he enjoyed a brief swansong, and reunion with Byron Seymour, at Larne Tech.

In recent times Lowry’s path has crossed with the town’s senior club, both on and off the field.

“I was at the game against Crusaders in the semi-final of County Antrim Shield about a year ago,” he said.

“And back at Seaview for the league game in August. Larne play a really nice brand of view, it’s very good to watch. It’s also great to see how the town have got behind them.

“I was also invited down to play in the legends match against Glentoran, which was really good. There were people I would have remembered playing with, like Damien McLaughlin, Bertie Fulton and Stephen Adair. There were also fellas I would have played against in my time at Larne, like Bustard and Gary Wray.

“The new pitch is also great to play on. I remember the old slope at Inver and nearly getting lost in the grass back in the day!”

The Inver Park surface is just one of many changes in the last two decades since Peter Lowry last kicked a ball competitively for the club. However, no matter how many things change or how many years pass by, that memorable brace at Taylors Avenue has ensured his name will forever be etched the club’s history books.

Journey is one of those buzzwords everyone in football seems to throw around these days, however for some it really is justified – just ask Julian Ward.

The Aintree-born midfielder plied his trade at Inver Park, 15 years ago, during Larne’s last stint in the Premiership. Ward arrived in Northern Ireland to further his education and career, enjoying a successful stint under Kenny Shiels and Jim Hagan in the process.

However, his time at Inver Park is just one rung on the ladder of his football career which has taken him to a World Cup and paved the way for spells on the staff of two of the biggest clubs in the English Premier League.

Ward is currently in his eighth year of employment at Liverpool, where he works as loan pathways and football partnerships manager. It means he now oversees the loan moves for some of the game’s most promising prospects.

Rewind to 2005 however, as it was Ward himself who was looking to make his way in the game. He takes up the story: “I had been playing at Morecombe, but before I came to Northern Ireland I was on the semi-pro scene with the likes of Southport and Hyde United.

“I was 24 when I decided to do a PHD at Jordanstown, so I moved over to come to the University of Ulster. The course began in September 2005 and by chance, I knew Conor Lynch from the University, who was at Larne at the time.

“I ended up training with Larne and Kenny Shiels, who was the manager at the time, came to watch in a game for UUJ. I scored two goals that day, so that maybe convinced Kenny he was getting a goalscoring midfielder!

“Because I had moved over in the September time I couldn’t sign for Larne outside the window. Kenny got me to the Welders until Christmas and that was good, because I could play some games for them for the first few months and get adapted to the game here.

“Once January came Kenny got me in the team and thankfully I was able to stay in it.”

Ward arrived at the club just as the situation was stabilising under the wily management of former-Ballymena manager Shiels. The team were progressing and steadily climbing away from relegation trouble in the 2005/06 season.

The form in the second half of that season was underlined with an Irish Cup run to the semi-finals, losing to Glentoran. As Ward explains, this had its disadvantages for members of the squad who were also studying together.

“It helped coming to Larne because I already knew some of the guys from the Uni,” Ward added.

“Kris Lindsay was studying at Jordanstown at the time and playing for Larne, Conor Lynch as I say, Johnny Montgomery and Niall Curneen was there too. A good few of us were also playing for UUJ in the Collingwood Cup that year, which we managed to win.

“I don’t think Kenny was too pleased though, because we had games during the week and then an Irish Cup quarter-final on the Saturday. In the end, it meant six games in six days – I think you’d describe players as being in red zone nowadays!”

While Ward arrived at a club who, at that point, were perennially battling to keep afloat in the top flight, he found some quality players around him in the squad. The front two picked themselves in the former of Stranraer-based Gary McCutcheon who was partnered by Mark Dickson, someone who would go on to win everything there is in the Irish League. At the back, meanwhile, was Northern Ireland under-21 International, and current Dungannon Swifts boss, Kris Lindsay. As Ward points out that trio helped to give confidence to players around them.

“I think with those two strikers up front and Kris at the back it gave us a great structure,” he said.

“Kenny was also a manager who had everyone well organised. With Gary and Mark up front, we always felt that if we stayed in a game then we could rely on one of those two to take a chance at the other end.

“The team were fighting off relegation for a good part of that season and normally when that’s the case you end up trying to flood the midfield or pack the defence, but we knew we had to get those two in the team together. Sometimes that meant coming up against an extra man in midfield, but you didn’t mind because you knew they were so important for us.

“Kenny Shiels was also a good manager to play under. His coaching was very good, he was very enthusiastic and organised. I think you saw that when he went on to coach in Scotland with great success. It was a real disappointment when he had to leave at the end of that season because of his job with the IFA.”

Following Shiels’ departure in the summer of 2006, then assistant manager Jim Hagan was handed the reins. Jim was always likely to be up against it having to replace three of his key men, in the shape of Lindsay, McCutcheon and Dickson.

“We lost a few key players in that summer, as well as Kenny himself,” Ward reflected.

“Gary went to Portadown, and Mark and Kris went to Linfield and that was a big part of the spine of the team.

“I liked Jim and I enjoyed playing under him. He placed trust in young players and always wanted to give them a chance, but it was always going to be difficult to replace players that we lost.

“I remember we started off ok in the League Cup that season but struggled in the league. Looking back, it was probably always going to be an uphill struggle with the quality of player who left in that summer.”

Following Jim Hagan’s departure in November 2006, Ward was preparing to play under his third Larne manager in less than a year. With Paul Curran’s arrival, game time would prove to be limited for the English midfielder and that eventually led to a move to Lisburn Distillery.

“I really bought into being at the club, and some of my best experiences in football have come from playing in the Irish League,” he said.

“Paul came in and I started to get used wide in midfield. I wanted to contribute although I probably didn’t feel that was my best position. In the end, I didn’t get the game time I had under Kenny and Jim and had to look for a new challenge.

“I had a call from Paul Kirk at Distillery and ended up going there and enjoyed it as well. I can’t speak highly enough of my time in Irish League.”

Halfway through his time at Ballyskeagh came the opportunity of a lifetime for Ward. Previous work he had done came to the attention of Portugal Carlos Queiroz and before he knew it, Ward was preparing for a World Cup qualifying campaign which would take him all the way to South Africa.
“I still had time left on my contract at Distillery, but then an opportunity came up which I couldn’t really turn down,” he said.

“Carlos Queiroz had just left Manchester United to take over as Portugal’s head coach. I had done some part-time work for someone that Carlos knew at United. He told me Carlos was looking to build a scouting team with Portugal. I went for an interview and he gave me the opportunity to go to Lisbon and work with him.

“It was the build-up to the 2010 World Cup and part of the role was having a handle on upcoming opponents. Most of Portuguese talent pool also play outside of Portugal and so my role was also to organise scouts to stay on top of players for the national squad too.

“That involved players playing in the likes of England, Spain, France and Germany. There were probably 15 or 16 places in the squad which were nailed on each time, but that left eight or nine spots up for grabs that we would monitor.

“In the end, Portugal got through a difficult World Cup group, but lost to Spain in the last 16, who eventually went on to win the competition. The Federation ended the contracts of Carlos and staff after the World Cup and it was time to move on.”

Following the unique experience of preparing for a World Cup, the next part of Ward’s professional journey brought him to work at the Etihad Stadium, just as things were really beginning to take off for club with huge investment.

“I wanted to stay in game, and City were looking at expanding their recruitment and staff department,” he said.

“I had got some experience of players in different parts of the world at this stage, with the likes of latin Europe and South America. I spent two seasons at the Etihad, including when the Premier League was won for the first time in 2012, and that was really enjoyable.”

From the Etihad, it was on to Anfield where he would eventually take up a key role in the structure of one of the biggest clubs in Europe.

“I’m in my eighth season at Liverpool now, and for the last three or four years I have moved into the role of loan pathways and football partnerships manager,” he said.

“Essentially, I work with the Sporting Director, the manager and the Academy Director. I help to oversee players who are on loan with other clubs, helping their development, getting them a broad experience and ultimately trying to ensure they are ready to come back to Melwood to make a positive impression.
“It’s about trying to bridge the gap between under-23’s football and the first team.”

Ward’s now day-to-day environment of Melwood – Liverpool’s impressive training complex – may seem a world away from his days in the Irish League. However, as he explains, it’s not long before a connection with this side of the Irish Sea pops up.

“It’s a small world, because I played with Ryan McCann at Distillery,” he began.

“Last season his brother Grant was the manager of Doncaster. Rovers. He made a phone call to ask about taking a player, Herbie Kane, on loan. When you’re making contacts like that it’s based on trust, and how they will handle a player. It helped to have that connection with Ryan, so it made it just more than a phone call between two people who didn’t know each other.

“Herbie went on loan with Grant at Doncaster, they ended up having a good season. Grant got the Hull City job and now Herbie has gone there on loan for the rest of the season.”

However, it’s not just the Championship and League One clubs where Liverpool’s young prospects head for temporarily, as Ward explains.

“We have a player at Kidderminster at the minute and it shows that young players don’t always hit the ground running straight into the first team,” he said.

“For a lot of players it’s about going on a journey and making that progression. Personally, I find it helps my dealings with a young player that I went on a journey of my own. Moving away from home, coming to Northern Ireland and then working with Portugal and in other places. I try to hammer home to a lot of these young lads just how fortunate they are to be in this environment.

“I think you also see the advantage of being schooled in the likes of the Irish League and how it can prepare you for the rigours of football time football. You look at Stuart Dallas who had time in the Irish League when he was younger. He went to Brentford, he’s now at Leeds and a key international player and may be playing in the Premier League next season.

“At Liverpool, I think Andy Robertson would tell you he is stronger today for his journey he has been on at lower levels in Scotland.”

If there’s anyone well qualified to talk about the journey you can find yourself on in football, it’s Julian Ward.

When Larry McMahon is asked about two of his former team-mates at Inver Park, he is able to speak with a mixture of foresight and hindsight.

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20 vision – it’s always easier to look back today and realise what was coming down the line. However, when it comes to playing alongside Harry McConkey and David Jeffrey, McMahon insists much of it was obvious at the time. Both men have gone on to become successful managers in their own right, with the two of them still in a dug out in different parts of the country today.

In Jeffrey’s case, he would go on to become the most decorated manager the Irish League has ever seen, while McConkey has enjoyed successful spells with Dergview, Ballinamallard and the Northern Ireland Junior International side.

However, as McMahon goes back to the beginning, it is another manager he knew well, who was responsible for bringing him to Inver.

“I signed for Larne in the summer of 1995,” he begins.

“Shay Hamill was the manager at the time and someone I had known well from youth teams. I played in the Milk Cup for Ballymena in the late 1980’s and I would have known him through the youth team and reserves at Ballymena United.

“I went off to uni in Scotland for four years after that and I was returning here in 1995. I came back and Shay had just got the Larne job, so he phoned me to see if I would come down.

“I was keen to come, but I told him I didn’t want to play reserve team football at that stage, I just felt too old for that. He said I would get my fair chance in the first team and he was true to his word. I think my first game might have been against Greenock Morton in a friendly and I managed to do well in that. The season back then started with the Gold Cup or Ulster Cup I think, and I made my competitive senior debut away to Linfield at Windsor Park!

“I have a lot of fond memories of Shay Hamill, who unfortunately passed away at a young age. You wouldn’t find many people with a bad word to say about him in Irish League circles.”

As McMahon – an athletic midfielder and goalscoring striker during his time at Larne – reflects on his stint at the club, there are a number of notable players he enjoyed playing alongside.

“When I look back, there were some really good players at the club,” he said.

“David Jeffrey had come in as a player/coach and while, as he would say himself, was at the tail end of his career, you could see he was a top player who looked after himself. Then you had the likes of Robert Robinson and Stephen Collier, who obviously went to Linfield with David and had a lot of success there.

“There were a lot of good players passed through during my three years at the club, they just weren’t all there at the same time. If they had have been, then who knows. The likes of Crawford McCrea who knew where the net was, Noel Murray towards the start of my times there.

“I loved playing alongside Davy Patton, he was an intelligent player and someone who was great to be paired with.”
While it was Shay Hamill who held the reins during McMahon’s early days at Inver Park, there were those two influential characters, in the form of McConkey and Jeffrey, still on the playing staff.

“To me it was no surprise that Harry went into management,” McMahon said of the current Ballinamallard boss, who took them to last season’s Irish Cup final.

“He was in his mid 30’s by the time he was playing at Larne, but he was neatest player. He had the cleanest boots, probably one of the fittest players and just a brilliant, brilliant person.

“I remember he was caretaker player/manager for a short spell and was jut so enthusiastic – and that rubs off on you. Harry wasn’t as high profile as a player, but I saw everything that would made him a good manager. I honestly think that if you gave Harry the Linfield, Glentoran, Crusaders or whatever else job he wouldn’t be out of place.

“He had us doing an extra night in one of the local schools in the mid-90’s and introduced circuits and was just ahead of his time. He stood out like a sore thumb to be honest, and it’s not surprise to see what he has gone on to.”

And what about the man who would make the move from Inver Park to Windsor Park to become the Linfield manager, and eclipse the trophy haul previously held by the great Roy Coyle?

“David Jeffrey was assistant and still playing when he was at Larne,” McMahon said.

“The interesting thing was the self-discipline David had and he helped generate that in the dressing room too. He was trying to encourage competition within the squad in everything we did. Whether it was training or matchdays.

“I wouldn’t have had him down as the greatest football brain or anything that like, but you could see his leadership skills, definitely. I think he was also savvy when he saw the coaching ability of Brian McLaughlin, who was at Larne Olympic at the time. He took him with him to Linfield, and I’d say they compliment each other very well, between the management and coaching side of things.”

While he was there for relatively lean years, there are still highlights which stick in the Belfast-based solicitor’s mind.

“There are definitely individual games which stand out, including playing Portadown in the Irish Cup at Inver,” he said.

“I remember we went 1-0 up, with myself getting the goal, and Portadown were a really good side then. They equalised and I had a great chance to put us 2-1 up and put it just wide.

“I’m fairly sure their winner came about in controversial circumstances and the Larne fans weren’t too happy with Alan Snoddy that day!

“It was probably fairly typical in that we had the ability to raise our game for one-off occasion like that.”

McMahon’s stint at Inver Park came to an end in the summer of 1998, when Marty Quinn’s Cliftonville, who were then reigning top flight champions, sought his signature There was only going to be one answer.

“I signed for Cliftonville the summer after won they league – I must have been kiss of death!” He joked.

“The team went from winning the league to being in a relegation playoff the season after. I think myself and Tommy McCallion were the only two signings that summer, so it was more or less the same squad who won the league.

“In my time at Larne I think I had won the newcomer of the year in my first season and player of the year in the next two. My final season at Larne I had done pretty well in particular games, like that Portadown Irish Cup game. Kieran Harding phoned me to ask about coming to Portadown, and Ballymena were interested too.

“At the end of the day though, when Marty Quinn contacted me, they had just won the league and going there meant making my debut in the Champions League.

“I ended up staying at Cliftonville for four years and enjoyed my time there a lot, before moving on in 2002.

“When I look back on my time of football, it’s the friendships you make and camaraderie that you enjoy. For me, those are where the memories are, I’m still friends with Harry McConkey today, someone I played with 25 years ago, but that’s the beauty of football.”

IF THERE IS ONE THING YOU COULD never label Kenny Shiels with, it is being predictable. The current head coach of the Northern Ireland senior women’s team has enjoyed a varied career and one where he has always been seen by others as a bit of a maverick, someone who did things his own way.

When he was named Larne manager in the Autumn of 2005 it was another move that few could have predicted. Mainly because he had spent the early part of decade as Ballymena United manager. The Invermen and Braidmen had enjoyed quite the rivalry in those first few years of the millennium.

Both clubs were battling together to get out of the old First Division, striving for the Promised Land of the soon-to-be rejuvenated top flight. Both managed exactly that in the spring of 2003, earning a golden ticket each to the new 16-team Premier League. That, of course, meant the rivalry continued between Shiels’ United side and the plucky upstarts from Inver Park.

A defining moment in that promotion race came in Larne’s penultimate home game of the season. Trailing 1-0 late on to Ballymena, in a game they desperately needed to win. Late pressure finally brought an equaliser, with Tommy Kincaid’s continuing to throw all but the proverbial kitchen sink. Then came the moment which helped to define the season. Mark Parker popped up in the 91st minute to seal a 2-1 win and keep Larne on course for a promotion bid they would seal with a final day away to fellow hopefuls, Bangor. It was the high watermark for Larne fans of the rivalry, in that particular era.

It’s ironic then, little over two years later, that Shiels, having left Ballymena just a few months earlier and Larne, in need of guiding hand to get them away from the foot of the Premiership table, should see each other as the right fit. What about Shiels though, how did he feel about becoming Larne boss not long after had left their rivals?

“No matter where I go I have passion for that club I’m working for,” he maintained.

“I always wanted to do my best for that club, they have put their faith in me and Larne were no different in that respect. I always enjoyed bringing teams to Inver Park, and that is the truth.

“The Larne fans always really got behind their club and as an opposition manager, you notice things like that. You don’t necessary stand on the touchline during the match and think about it, but when the Larne job became vacant it’s the sort of thing you associate with the club.

“I really enjoyed my time at the club. In the short time we were there we had two semi-finals, one in the Irish Cup against Glentoran and one in the County Antrim Shield against Ballymena, so there are a lot of happy memories.”

There is another ironic, unpredictability to the chain of events which would see Shiels become Larne manager. It arrived at the start of April 2005, when Larne and Ballymena came head-to-head again. This time it was in the semi-final of the Irish Cup, at the Oval.

In a game dominated by Ballymena, almost from start to finish, Larne’s big moment came courtesy of a penalty slammed home by Mark Dickson, in front of the jubilant Larne fans at the City End of the ground.

Shiels himself knows that painful, and probably undeserved, 1-0 defeat spelt the beginning for the end for him, with his contract not being renewed at the end of the season.

“I remember that well,” he said.
“We were robbed at the Oval that day to be honest. We were shooting in for most of the match. I thought Jeff (Hughes) took a bit of a roll on the edge of the box that day and we just didn’t come back from the goal.

“In our last 15 games of that season we only lost two games, and one of them was the Irish Cup semi-final. The directorship at Ballymena was poor to be honest, they didn’t really understand football.

“Losing to Larne was not on for them, irrespective of how that game went, it didn’t matter, they just thought we shouldn’t have lost it. In the end I think they regretted it, but they decision was made.

“The fact that the defeat lead to be becoming Larne manager not that long after it, shows how unpredictable football can be.”

The exit from Ballymena meant the door opened for Shiels to be named Larne boss in October of that year. He immediately set about trying to help the team climb away from the relegation zone, after a poor start. Jimmy McGeough had departed for personal reasons, with Sammy Smith put in interim charge before Shiels came in.

“When I came in the main thing we looked to do was build up the confidence of the team,” he said.

“There were so many things that were wrong to be honest, but we looked to try to build from a solid base. The obvious quality there at the time was Gary McCutcheon and Mark Dickson who were our two strikers.

“They were two really good players and you were surprised to find them in a team who were struggling towards the bottom of the table.

“There were some good players to work with to be fair, and we were able to get results quicker than we expected, to be honest.”

Shiels brought a familiar face with him as his assistant, which he feels was instrumental in making the almost immediate impact.

“I had Jim Hagan with me, and he was a good guide and a good person to have in along with you,” he added.

“Jim is a good friend of mine. He played for me at Coleraine and then again at Moyola Park in the twilight of his career. He also had very good connections with the town with him being from there and living in Larne too.

“We were a part of the 16-team Premier League at the time and I liked the make up of that division to be honest. I remember going into the last game of the season, against Portadown at home and we had to beat them and we managed it. In the end I think we actually ended up finishing 12th and avoided relegation quite comfortably.”

Kenny’s time at the club was brought to an abrupt end at the end of the 2006/06 season, when a new full-time youth development job with the IFA stopped him from staying on in the job.

“I would like to have built for the next season to be honest,” he reflected.

“In the end that just wasn’t possible because of the job I had taken up before moving to England.”
After a spell in youth development with Tranmere Rovers, Kenny made his name as Kilmarnock. He ensured his name would go down in folklore at Rugby Park with a 1-0 win over Celtic in the 2012 League Cup final at Hampden. While in Scotland, Kenny wasn’t afraid to give his usual forthright opinion, even if it didn’t always endear him to some in the game.

“My time in Scotland was really good,” he said.

“When we were at Kilmarnock, we enjoyed having the odds against us. We beat the Old Firm home and away and obviously we had the trophy win. I think Celtic came into that game having won 27 out of their previous 28 games.

“I found that, in Scotland, the media was either Rangers or Celtic, there wasn’t a lot in between. Football wise there were leagues within the league and you’re always trying to do the best with what you have.”

The management position at Greenock Morton followed, before a brief stint with BEC Tero Sasana in Thailand. From there it was on to two years at Derry City, which yielded more silverware before his current job with the Northern Ireland women’s side. It’s a role he’s very much enjoying.

“It’s a great job, because you can set down your style of play and how you want it to be,” he said.

“It’s more difficult to do that in the Irish League, for different reasons. At the end of the day, it’s the same game you’re involved with and women’s football is growing all the time, it is becoming very big.

“I see part of my role as having an important element of long-term planning, for the young girls who are coming through. There is an opportunity to stamp my authority and help to develop the game here.

“We have a game coming up against Belarus in April we’re looking forward to it, there are good young players for us to work with.”

What then of a return to the men’s game, is it something Shiels could see on the horizon?

“You never say never, if something came up at the right time then you would have to look at it,” he said.

“I am happy in the role I have, so I certainly wouldn’t be rushing to look for that opportunity. I’m not sure if the product is quite there in the Irish League still. In some clubs, it is good and others not to good to be honest.

“Larne and the likes of Cliftonville try to play, and Institute did last year. After that, you have Glentoran who play off second balls, and that’s not being critical, but just the way I have seen it.

“If you have development programmes at your club who are trying to play then you need to see that at first team level and we’re not really getting that in too many places. There’s no point in saying what people want to hear, I think things need to improve and keep improving and that will lift the standards for everyone.”

As ever, Kenny Shiels is never afraid to call it as he sees it.

Paul Maguire’s goal laden six year spell at Inver Park had the historians reaching for the record books.

Maguire bagged a mightily impressive 92 goals across five and a half seasons with the club. He could well have been a member of the magical 100 club, had it not been for an earlier-than-expected exit from the club, at the start of 2017.

At that stage Maguire admitted he didn’t see eye-to-eye with then boss David McAlinden and it meant calling time on his stay at Inver Park. Does he regret not seeing it out until at least the end of the season, in search becoming the first player post-war to break the 100 barrier?

“When the dust settles there probably is a wee bit of regret and you wonder what if,” he admitted.

“To be honest though, it had just come to the stage where there were a few things I didn’t agree with from the management side of things and decided my time was up. A lot of people said it was about money and that’s why I left, but it wasn’t. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not money orientated. I just came to the point where I didn’t want to be there.

“There are times when you think it would have been nice to get to the 100 milestone, but that didn’t really come into my thinking at the time to be honest. Maybe some people think I should have bit my tongue and got on with it, but I made the decision I felt was right and the rest is history.”

Such has been the rapid change around the club it’s hard to believe it’s only three years since Maguire played his last game for the club. Nowadays he gets along to watch as a supporter, when time permits around his commitments with Larne Tech Old Boys.

“It’s good to see what is happening now,” he said.

“I would get down to watch the odd match when I can and there is a lot of quality in the dressing room. Of course you still think ‘what if’, in terms if I was still around when it was all happening. I wish I was 10 years younger to be honest, I would definitely be giving it a go! It’s great to see what’s happening though and hopefully the fans and the town continue to enjoy it.”

As Maguire looks back to how his chance came along to sign for Larne, he credits the persuasive powers of then boss Paul Millar. Millar, currently Glentoran’s assistant manager, knew what it took to give strikers confidence, having been one of distinction himself. It was enough for Maguire to be convinced that he should leave he comfort zone of Amateur League football at Wellington Rec, where he had been thriving.

“He got in touch with me to ask to meet me and we met in Daryl Service’s house, who was the physio at that time,” he explained.

“When we met, he told me that he would play me for 10 games in a row, whether I scored or not in those games. I had never really heard that before and it helped to relax you, because you knew the pressure wasn’t on to score straight away or you’d be out of the team.

“I was scoring quite a few goals for Wellington Rec at that point and it felt worth making the move, knowing that the manager would give me a good chance at it. To be honest though, I didn’t really over think it. When you’re young you don’t really overthink things, you just get on with it.

“Making the move with Niall McAllister was good as well, because it meant I wasn’t coming in and not knowing anyone at the start. There was already a tight knit group at the club, so we were coming into that.

“Windy wasn’t a bad player himself. You could see when he joined in training that he still had a good left foot and it’s always good to learn from a striker when you’re coming in as one yourself.”

The start to Maguire’s first season couldn’t have gone much better, as the goals flowed and an opportunity to claim the club’s first Steel & Sons success in some 40 years. The Invermen made it to the Steel Cup final, after a memorable run which included knocking out a Linfield Swifts side, which included a number of first team players.

“It was nice to get to the final, the build up to it was enjoyable but it just didn’t happen on the day,” he said.

“We had a good run that season and beat a really good Linfield Swifts team in the quarter-finals. They had Winkie Murphy and Kris Lindsay as their centre halves that day – I remember getting a couple of elbows off Winkie just before I scored as well!

“We had some good quality in our squad that season ourselves, the likes of Adam Dick, Robbie White and Marc Brown and a few others. Looking back you always feel you could have done better but it just wasn’t to be.

“The final itself was a funny sort of game. I remember I scored early on and it got ruled out, which I didn’t think it should have been. You cant take anything away from Bangor though, they were the better team on the day and they deserved to win it.”

With the final being played on Christmas Eve that year, Larne took huge numbers to Seaview, something that wasn’t lost on Maguire or his fellow players.

“The one thing you remember from the day was the crowd,” he added.

“Obviously the players had a lot of support from family, but the amount of fans who came out from the town was brilliant. To be honest, at that stage I didn’t realise how many people supported the club, and I suppose it showed the interest was still there from people.”

Paul Millar moved on just before the end Maguire’s first season, but he was convinced to stay on by incoming boss Tommy Kincaid. Kincaid’s stint was short lived, with Graham McConnell taking over the reins.

Maguire missed much of that season with injury, but returned to help the club stave off relegation threats. Despite strong interest from elsewhere, Maguire stayed at Inver Park with boss Davy McAlinden arriving in November 2013.

“Davy was a good manager, a good coach as well,” he reflected.

“He brought in the squad he wanted to, with a lot of good players at Championship level coming in towards the end of his time at the club.

“We were fairly close a couple of times. There was one year we started really well and kept ourselves in and around the top and then the season where we missed out on the playoffs by one goal at the end. Again, you look back and think we could have done this or that, but that’s just the way it is.”
During McAlinden’s time at the club, Maguire enjoyed playing alongside some prolific front men.

“I really enjoyed playing with Ciaran Murray,” he revealed.

“I remember the summer Davy brought him in. Davy wasn’t there for Ciaran’s first session and he phoned me to ask what I thought of him. I told him I liked him, he was greedy in a good way. He always wanted to score and that was just in training at Sandy Bay! It turned out that he was a goal machine and did really well for us in the time he was at the club.
“Big Keke was a good player too. He has that lazy sort of style, but he was a good player and got a fair amount of goals too.

“Around that time it felt like we dropped a lot of silly points. We were coming off in games frustrated that we hadn’t beaten teams we knew we were capable of beating.”

After leaving Inver Park, Maguire had a brief stint at Ballyclare Comrades, before moving to Larne Tech. The touch in front of goal clearly hasn’t deserted him, having bagged more than 40 goals last season en route to an Irish Cup quarter-final and promotion back to the Amateur League’s top flight.

“I’m loving it to be honest,” he said.

“There’s no real travel involved and we can go out and enjoy it when we play. Johnny Hastings has put together a really good squad as well, and I enjoy being part of it. Don’t get me wrong, I still get a bit frustrated here and there at 36-years-of-age but I’m really enjoying it.

“The Irish Cup run last year was brilliant, and those are the game you really enjoy, and will always remember. We had no right to go to the likes of Limavady and beat them, but I think it was just a step too far having to go to Warrenpoint, who are a Premiership side.

“I’m thinking of one more season and then we’ll see what happens after that, but I’m really enjoying it.”

Mark Dickson always preferred to let his football do the talking. Football changing rooms tend to be packed with jokers, extroverts and those not afraid to put forward an opinion – whether it has been asked for or not.

Despite being one of the most decorated forwards of his generation and enjoying a clean sweep of medals available to him, Mark Dickson has always been known as one of the quiet men in Irish League football.

He enjoyed some incredibly significant moments in the five years he wore the Larne shirt, from 2001 to 2006. Between bagging the goal to clinch promotion to the Premiership and scoring the goals which saw us reach our last two major cup finals – the League Cup decider of 2003 and Irish Cup final in 2005, Mark Dickson is synonymous with that period of our history.

From Inver Park, he went on to enjoy major success at boyhood club Linfield, and scored a spectacular winner in another Irish Cup finale, this time for Crusaders. Despite all of this, you won’t find ‘Dicko’ shouting from the rooftops about his time in the game.

Going back to where it all began, Mark’s football pedigree was spotted at an early age and it earned him a two-year apprenticeship at Northampton Town.

“I loved it,” Dickson admitted.

“Training and playing every day is something you dream of and I was able to do that from 16 to 18-years-old. I think I was spotted playing underage football and the scout had seen me at the Milk Cup as well – it was a great time at Northampton.”

After Mark’s second season with ‘The Cobblers’ he was given the news that all young footballers fear, when he was told his contract wasn’t going to be renewed. After taking stock, it meant a move back home and an opportunity with Newry City, then high fliers in the Premiership, presented itself.

Initially things went well under then boss Alfie Wylie, scoring in an opening day win over Crusaders, at the start of the 2000-01 season.

“It was a big change for me at the start,” he said.

“When you come back to play in the Irish League, you’re not only playing, but you’re also working during the day and training twice a week, so it’s a big difference when you come initially.

“I was also straight into men’s football and that brings about a big difference when you’ve been playing against other players of your own age group. Things started well enough, but I had 18 months at Newry before I wanted to move on to play regular football.”

Step forward Tommy Kincaid, who was halfway through his first season as a manager, having taken the reins at Inver Park. Kincaid made the step up from assistant manager at Lisburn Distillery and was beginning to put his stamp on things. Having spoken to Dickson, he was keen to land his man.

“I was out of the team at Newry and I knew dropping down into the First Division might give me a better chance of playing more regularly” Mark recalled.

“I came to training and enjoyed it, so I was keen to sign and I did in the December.

“It felt like Larne were a club who were building for promotion, and even though it didn’t happen at the end of that first season we were moving towards it. It was a very competitive division, you had the likes of Ballymena, Bangor and obviously ourselves.”

With Larne on an upwardly mobile trajectory, the encouraging news came in the summer of 2002 that a restructure of the Irish League meant that half of the then First Division – four of the eight teams – would be promoted to the revamped top flight. The objective was clear – avoid finishing in the bottom half and promotion was assured. In true Larne fashion, things went right to the wire.

Having been in the top half for virtually all of the season, it came down to a last day shoot out between Larne and Bangor at Clandeboye Park. The hosts, Bangor, were sitting in fifth and needed a victory to leapfrog Kincaid’s men, while a point would do the job for Larne.

Mark is clear in his mind what saw them through that tense afternoon of Tuesday 22nd April 2003.

“We had a really good team spirit in that side,” he said.

“There was a really good togetherness and it meant that we fought for every ball. Tommy was good at lifting the pressure off us, even though there probably was a lot riding on the game for the club.

“In the end we got the draw we needed, but Bangor pushed really hard for the win they needed too. Experienced players really helped us to get through that, people like John McKinstry, Tommy McDonald and Neil Candlish.”

Of course, it was Dickson who got the goal which set Larne on their way, a glancing header at the opposite end of the ground to a large travelling support from Larne.

He said: “I just remember it was a great cross in from Neilly (Candlish) and I managed to get across the defender and head it in.
“There were great celebrations at the end, Larne had a big crowd up and I remember the great reception we got back at the club too.

“Looking back on it, I felt I had made the right decision in coming to Larne, because we managed to get back to the Premiership together.”

From there, Larne began life as Premiership club in the 2003/04 season and it was an eventful start back to life mixing it with the big boys.

“We really enjoyed a great first season back in Premiership,” he said.

“We went into almost every game as underdogs, which really suited us because we could hit a lot of teams on the counter attack. Before the the League Cup final, we were sitting fourth in the table I think, and we had started really well.

“The early part of that season obviously involved getting to that final. It was a real shame not to have silverware to look back on with my time at Larne, but it just wasn’t meant to be, with that defeat to Cliftonville on penalties.”

With Tommy Kincaid moving on and John Devine taking over until the end of the season, it was soon time for a fresh face in the form of Jimmy McGeough, who took over for the 2004/05 season.

Dickson’s hat-trick in the quarter-final replay and winner from the penalty spot against Ballymena in the last four, all proved pivotal as Larne ended the season in the Irish Cup final against a strong Portadown side. Despite Neil Ogden’s early goal, it was to end in a 5-1 rout for the Ports.

“When Jimmy came in he moved me from the right to put me up front,” Mark added.

“There were a lot of young players brought into the side and they really helped bring a freshness, playing without fear. Getting to the Irish Cup final at the end of that season was a brilliant achievement. Scoring as early as we did probably angered them.

“They had some top players, who all played well on the day. You had players like Mickey Collins, Vinny Arkins and Gary Hamilton.”

One more season followed at Inver Park, and Dickson was paired with Gary McCutcheon in one of the strongest partnerships the club has seen in recent times.

“Gary McCutcheon was quality on the ball,” he recalled.

“It allowed me to run in behind, which was great, but we had other experienced players in the team around that time, with the likes of Neil Ogden and Stevie Small. I think the only thing wrong with us around that time was having to change manager nearly every season, and it meant starting with a new core of five or six players each time.”

Interest in the striker grew with every passing season, with Cliftonville and Ballymena among the clubs heavily linked. However, it was in the summer of 2006 he got the move he really wanted when David Jeffrey’s Linfield came calling.

“I loved playing for Larne, I really love going back to see a lot of the familiar faces at the club and it brings back a lot of good memories,” he said.

“Being a Linfield supporter, it was a dream come true to be able to sign for them, and have some success along the way. I had the chance to play for Crusaders as well and the Irish Cup win was a big highlight there too.”

A final season followed at Donegal Celtic, but a combination of having to working on Saturdays as Postman and a troublesome knee injury, brought the curtain down on his playing days in 2011.

Two Premiership titles, three Irish Cups, one League Cup and one County Antrim Shield were secured during a glittering Irish League career. In the end, there was plenty to shout about for one of the Irish League’s quiet men.

If anyone knows the lasting impression you can make by tasting success at Inver Park it is Ian Bustard. The former midfielder was part of the 1987 Ulster Cup-winning team which is still so revered at the club.

Indeed, it remains the last senior trophy to reside at the club, some 32 years on. That trophy success came in what is regarded as a golden period for the club, certainly as a senior club.

Names from that era roll off the tongue easily, even for those of us too young to fully remember or appreciate it. Vinny Magee, Paul Carland, Eddie Spiers, Tommy Houston, Trevor McMullan, Harry Kernohan, Bryan McLaughlin, Davy Smyth, Paul Hardy and the rest. To that roll call, the name of Ian Bustard merits a place.

Bustard admits, as he looks back, it was impossible to tell what sort of impact the 2-1 win over Coleraine at the Oval to land the Ulster Cup, would leave on the club.

“It was such a brilliant occasion to be part of,” he recalled.

“Even though I was only on the bench it was a great night, although I came on in the second half thankfully.

“I remember build-up to the game and there being a lot of talk that some of the Coleraine players were going on strike because of win bonuses. In the match, itself Raymond Henry broke his leg in a real nothing challenge, which was a disappointment.

“The crowd there that night was something else, and big Paul Carland going up to lift the trophy was the icing on the cake. To be honest, it didn’t really sink in on the night what we had achieved, or even for a long time afterwards.”

If Bustard had one regret from his playing days at Inver Park, it would be that the Ulster Cup triumph was the only piece of silverware Larne senior ‘golden generation’ managed to win.

Two Irish Cup final appearances followed for Paul Malone’s men, but they lost out by a single goal in both; Glentoran, firstly in 1987 and then by the same scoreline to Ballymena United two years later.

“You never really think that it would be the last senior trophy Larne will lift for such a long time. Everyone still talks about that ’87 team to this day, and to counted as part of that side is a real honour. It’s just a shame we didn’t manage to bring more trophies back to Inver during that spell.

“The Ballymena Irish Cup final is probably the biggest regret. We had beaten them two or three times that season. We went into the game as favourites that day, but just didn’t happen for us.

“We had changed formation, like we did in semi-final, but it didn’t really work for us. In saying that, the last 20 minutes was all us, we just couldn’t get a goal.”

Bustard’s association with Larne began in 1986, moving from then ‘B’ Division side H&W Welders, although only after knocking back Paul Malone’s advances the first time around.

“I had three years at the Welders,” he said.

“The first in the Amateur League and then next two as a ‘B’ Division team. Paul Malone came in for me the year before I signed.

“I didn’t sign the first time because I didn’t think I was ready for the step-up. The next time I was working with Bryan McLaughlin in STC and he helped to convince me. It was the best move I ever made to be honest.

“In saying that, I think my first two matches were against Portadown and Glentoran – so that was a real eye opener!

“At that stage, Paul Malone was still playing and had dropped back into middle of the park.  Once he finished playing, I got more of an opportunity and settled in well.”

Bustard’s first stint at the club lasted for for five years, having remained until 1991.

Two further brief spells followed, towards the mid and late 1990’s, when Paul Malone also returned to the club.

In between times, Bustard turned out for Ballymena United, and tonight’s visitors Glenavon, with distinction.

Asked when he returned to Larne to finish off his senior playing days, his answer was instant.

Bustard remained at the club for five years, until 1991. Two further brief spells followed in between times with Ballymena United, and tonight’s visitors Glenavon.

“I just loved the club,” he said.

“It was the best club I ever played for, and Inver Park just feels like home to be honest. Even when I come to watch them now it feels like that.

“You’re made to feel special and people really appreciate what you did when you played for the club. That’s why I had three spells at the club altogether, it was hard to say no each time.”

Fast forward to the modern day and Bustard is familiar face in the stands at both home and away matches. Having had such an affinity with the club during his playing days, he admits that bond remains unbroken, as he comes to cheer on the modern day team from the stands.

“Up until last season I was still involved as Rathfern Rangers,” he said.

“I had a spell there as a player, manager, and on the committee, which lasted about 15 years altogether. They folded recently, so it gave me the opportunity to go out and watch football again. Myself and a few friends decided we’ve come to watch Larne, and they can’t believe the reception we get.

“When I come back to Inver Park I see people who were following the club 25 and 30 years ago. They’ve stuck with the club through thick and thin. It’s fantastic to see the amount of younger kids about the place too. It’s amazing to see what’s going on.”

Having taken a keen interest from the terraces, what does Bustard feel would be a good first season back in the top flight?

“I’ve said it from end of last season, if the team can secure a top six finish, it would be  unbelievable, because it’s such a step up. I know some people get carried away with talking of winning it, but you have to be realistic and build one step at a time, so the top half would be a very good season.”

Should Larne be able to put some more senior silverware on the table at Inver Park in the near future though, don’t be surprised if those players are still being talked about for years to come.

Irish League statistician, Marshall Gillespie asked on Twitter recently who local football fans thought was the best Irish League player never to have won an international cap. A popular answer was Jim Hagan. Ian Cahoon spoke to Jim for the matchday programme for the Glasgow Rangers friendly in October 2018.

Jim Hagan’s career took him to England, Spain, Sweden and the United States of America – but Inver Park has always been his footballing home.

Hagan was a cultured defender who proved he could adapt to a number of cultures, and it all began with Larne. In fact, he had no fewer than three spells as a player, one as a player/manager and one as assistant manager to Kenny Shiels. That coaching opportunity eventually led to a return to the managerial hot seat in its own right.

It’s an affinity with Inver Park that stretches back more than four decades and, while he now calls the south of Spain home, he is watching with great interest on everything that is unfolding at his old club.

For Jim, his connection with the club goes all the way back to the late 1960’s.

“I was a supporter first and foremost,” he explains.

“Every year my Father bought season tickets for us and we’d go to games.

“I can still remember him standing at the Church End, and those were the days when Larne were kingpins of ‘B’ Division.

“If felt like we won every game and there were some top players and characters in those teams. I remember the likes of Harry Rainey, who started off Windsor Rangers in the town and he went on to become a great goalscorer for his home town.

“Tommy Andrews was putting the reserve team together and he would have known a lot of us young lads, who went down to play football at Sandy Bay virtually every day.

“So I stated off by playing for the Olympic and then managed to break into first team at around 17. I was thrown into the deep end, but that’s the way I still feel is the best form of development.

“I know you cant do it with a whole team, but if players are good enough then playing them in the senior team is the best way to develop them. Look at the young lads who had a few years in Irish League before they went to England, and have had very successful careers

“Gareth McAuley is a prime example when you think of tonight’s opposition, and you look at Mal Donaghy who was here and then went to England in his 20s. It is a great grounding for players, toughens them up and prepares them for the professional game so often.”

Jim might well have broken into the first team at Inver Park at a tender age, but it wasn’t long before he showed his class. The only regret he has before his move to Coventry City in 1977 was that he never got the chance to play in an Irish Cup final with the club.

“The crowds were unbelievable in the 70s,” he recalls.

“Sandy Shields was first team manager when I broke in, before Brian Halliday took over. He built a very good team and obviously a number of players went across the water under him.

“Personally I think played in seven Irish Cup semi-finals including the replays. It just wasn’t to be, in getting to a final and that probably summed up that era for us.”

After moving to the full-time game with Coventry City, it was on to midlands rivals Birmingham – where he turned out 137 times for the club. La Liga new boys Celta Vigo then came calling, and it was there he was bestowed with the division’s best newcomer accolade – beating Gary Lineker, who had just arrived at Barcelona.

Hagan recalls his time at the top of the game in typical modesty that has earned him the title of ‘Gentleman Jim’ from those who knew him best.

“Playing in the old First Division in England against some of the top players, I did think ‘what am I doing on same pitch’ at times,” he said.

“There wasn’t the same coverage in those days, but you still saw those guys on TV and in the magazines. Eventually you realise they are just people like everyone else though.

“Going to grounds like Anfield, Highbury and White Hart Lane was special. I remember the days at Sandy Bay as youngsters we pretended we were playing at those grounds!

“It was up another level again in Spain, where you were playing at internationally known stadiums.”

It was during his time in the professional game that Jim lined-up alongside one of tonight’s guests, Mark Hateley, not once but twice.

Jim takes up the story: “Mark was an apprentice at Coventry when I was there.

“He made an impression as a youngster, because he wasn’t afraid to put himself around and had a great left foot as well. Jimmy Hill, Coventry’s chairman at the time, also had the franchise for Detroit Express in America, and to help them out he sent five of us over for a season in 1980.

“That included Mark and myself and the club thought it would help us to development and it was a great experience. We were well looked after with cars and apartments to stay in and it was good to experience a difficult culture for a while.”

Having played on to just shy of his 40th birthday, Jim has since been able to pass on his experience in a number of coaching roles. Fast forward to 2018, and although Jim now resides in the Costa del Sol, he is well up to speed with everything that is going on back home.

“I’m good friends with Gareth Clements and if anyone was made to be a Chairman he is,” he added.

“I’m so impressed with how professionally things are done, and all that has happened at the club, but I’m not surprised with Gareth involved, because that’s the way he approaches things.

“Everything being brought into the 21st century and with the backing of Kenny Bruce it is so good to see. Things are being done right with the youth structure, something I tried a while back.

“To see the numbers of people going to the games is brilliant too, it’s clear the whole town is buying into it. There are people at the club who have seen good and bad times, but things are moving forward and I just I wish I was born about 40 years later so that I could pull on the boots myself!”

The ambitions of the club have been well documented over the last year, but what does the man who has been associated with the club since 1974 think is possible?

“Anything that I have read would indicate that the objective is to become the best, and the club is doing everything they can to get there,” he said.

“Things don’t happen overnight, but looking at squad they should be able to get up and then from there it is about cementing yourself in the top flight again and you can start to look a Europe.

“With everything going on at the club it means others treat Larne as their cup final, but they seem to doing very well coping with that.

“If you look at Crusaders and where they have come from and got to now it shows you what can be done in Irish League football. With the backing Larne has, something like that could well be achieved a bit quicker that even they have done it.

“I’m delighted to see it all unfold. The whole town is pulling in the same direction and that is the key.

“When you have that, then anything is possible.”

Stephen Small got so much more than he could have bargained for, when putting pen to paper for Larne in the summer of 2004.

By that stage Small was a veteran full-back at Cliftonville and was told he could find himself a new club. Having enjoyed much success at Solitude, including a league title towards the end of the previous decade, and League Cup against Larne the previous season, Small had nothing left to prove. He did however want to end his career with one more crack at the top flight.

Larne had just made a managerial change at the time, with John Devine departing and the much travelled Jimmy McGeough coming in. The only problem was, the change came just a fortnight before the start of the competitive season.

Having inherited a threadbare squad McGeough, and assistant Sammy Smith, set about trying to assemble a competitive squad. With Small’s availability, McGeough was quick to snap him up.

While Larne were keen to get bodies through the door, for experienced defender it give him a whole new lease of life.

“The whole season was a breath of fresh air for me,” Small revealed.

“I spent most of my career at the one club, in Cliftonville. At that time I came to sign for Larne, I wasn’t wanted by the (Cliftonville) manager, and that made the decision for myself to take up the offer from Larne pretty straight forward.

“I didn’t want to stay on at Cliftonville and become one of those older, bitter players on the sidelines. Larne gave me the chance to go somewhere to renew my enthusiasm and I’m very grateful for that. I probably wouldn’t have played anywhere near the amount of games at Cliftonville that I did for Larne that season.

“Larne were in a real period of instability, the change of coaching staff late in the summer meant that they were really down to the bare bones, with very few senior players at that stage. I knew the manager was really signing any experienced player they could get hold of by that stage.”

Jimmy McGeough’s lovable eccentricities were well known to those close to him during his time at Inver Park and it to led to Small tasting life in a different part of the pitch, to the one he was expecting.

“With Jimmy’s background, he didn’t maybe have the same knowledge of the Irish League that others would have,” he added.

“Anyone who had been about the Irish League would have had me down as a right back. The first run of games I played under Jimmy was at the left of midfield, though.

“After a few weeks I thought I had better go and speak to him and I said to him, ‘you do know I’m normally a right back, don’t you?’ He gave a bit of a glazed looked and said he did, but he liked me cutting inside to play diagonal balls…the next game I started at right back!”

As Small reflects on his time at the club, he looks back on a number of talented players he shared a changing room with, including a current player.

“It felt like a real buzz to be involved in that squad,” he added.

“We had a really great changing room, with some very good players, like Mark Dickson, who was at the top of his game. There were also some very good local boys that season too. You had Jeff Hughes, Marty Rodgers Robbie Weir, and Chris Keenan was the younger back-up keeper in the squad. We also had some very experienced players in there too, and because of that there was a great bond.“

After a difficult start to that 2004/05 season, with a number of new signings pitched in together, Larne progressed to make their first Irish Cup final in almost two decades. They arrived there thanks to a famous win against derby rivals Ballymena in an Oval semi-final.

For Small, it also had added personal significance of allowing him to share the pitch with brother Frankie, who had been in the Larne Olympic ranks up until that point.

“When you look at the circumstances, at the beginning of that year we had four, five, six players doing pre-season at one point,” he said.

“To put a team on the pitch which was competitive, and then stay up and then to make it to an Irish Cup final was a real achievement. A few highlights of the long career I had came during that one year at Larne, and I was very grateful for.

“One of those was that I got to play in an Irish Cup semi-final with my brother. He really came into the first team squad from absolutely nowhere.

“I went to watch Frankie in a Larne Olympic game and he scored a hat-trick that night. Jimmy McGeough was also at that match and in typical Jimmy fashion, he started Frankie in the semi-finals of the Irish Cup, his first game for the first team.

“It was a bit awkward for me, because some people were looking round, wondering where this player had come from and I had to tell them he was my brother! There was an obvious pride there, because he was my brother, and it’s the only time I got to share the pitch with him in a competitive game.”

As the season wore on, it became clear that Small’s swansong at Larne would be his last in senior football. With an Irish Cup final on the horizon, it proved the perfect way to bow out, despite being on the end of a 5-1 defeat to Portadown in the Windsor final.

For Small though, when the final whistle in the decider, he had his mind made up it would be his last outing.

“In some ways I probably could have gone another year or two,” he said.

“There were a couple of factors during that season made me think long and hard about continuing for another year. I didn’t suffer many injuries during my career, but I was starting to pick up muscle and niggling injuries during that season.

“I also started to struggle to train on a Tuesday or Thursday night and that was difficult. I was more or less getting patched up for the next game, and a lot of my game was based on physicality and fitness, so I knew that wasn’t a good sign.

“I didn’t really want to go down the leagues just to keep playing either. I had played most or nearly all of my career in Premiership, and I decided that is where I wanted to end it.”

Bringing the story to the current day, Small is close friends with most of the Larne coaching staff and he believes that another trip to a major final is within their grasp.

“Looking at the position we were in when I was at Larne, training at Sandy Bay, under dubious lights to where they club is now, is incredible,” he added.

“Now the club are full-time, on a beautiful playing surface.

“I have been to watch Larne a number of times, and there is a great brand of football too. It’s also very noticeable that there is a great buy in from the local the community. It would be really fitting if the club were to make a major final, and even go one better this time.

“You look at it and think that if they could go on to lift a trophy it would probably push things on to next level. However, where the club are at now I think everyone should be pleased. There are in the top six of a really difficult Premiership, which is not an easy thing to do.

“I know Tiernan well, and he is a hard working and dedicated manager, and the chance to make a major final would be fantastic for him, the club and the whole community.”

There are different ways to write your name into the folklore of a football club.

For some, it will come after hanging up their boots up having made hundreds of appearances for a club. Others are remembered for lifting this trophy or that one, and still for others, just a couple of memorable goals can do the trick.

Michael Guy falls into the latter category, after his brief stint as a Larne player, in 1987. Guy, an experienced striker formerly of Ballymena United and Coleraine by the time he arrived at Inver Park, was coaxed out of retirement by then boss Paul Malone.

Like many, Guy found it hard to resist the lure of signing on for Larne after a conversation with one of the club’s greatest ever bosses. Even though he thought his Irish League days were behind him at the age of 33, there was to be one final – and memorable – swan song still left in him…much to the delight of the Inver faithful.

Michael takes up the story: “It was the tail end of 1986 and I was out of senior football at that stage, having left Ballymena. I just hadn’t re-signed for Ballymena at the end of the season and ended up drifting away from senior football. I had probably lost a bit of interest at that stage to be honest and I was doing a bit of coaching with Roe Valley, my local club.

“It was just before Christmas when Paul Malone got in touch. I had bumped into him playing in one of the summer cups earlier in the year.

“I also was with him when we were both playing at Ballymena. I wasn’t overly surprised when he went into management. I know a bad injury cut short his playing days by a bit, so I could have seen him going into management.

“I always enjoyed keeping myself fit, so that wasn’t really an issue when I came back into play.”

Considering he ended up drifting away from neighbours Ballymena, and top flight football altogether, just what was it that brought the striker in from the cold?

“Paul talked me into it,” he said.

“By that stage, I had already been asked by Ballymena if I would consider coming back. That had been in my mind a bit, but when Paul phoned it sounded interesting and I had always enjoyed playing at Larne when I was with other clubs. I knew what sort of team Larne was, they were one of the smaller teams in league but they had been doing well and had a good side back at that time.”

Manager Malone certainly was building a good side by that stage, and they would go on to finish third in the top tier at the end of that season. However, it was in the Irish Cup that year where they were to make a little bit of history. By 1987 it was more than 50 years since a Larne side had been in an Irish Cup decider.

If Guy was brought into fire them to into contention for trophy success, it looked like a shrewd move.

“I wouldn’t say that I was ever a 30-goal-a-season striker or anything like that, but I had always done well in cups,” he said.

“We got past Ballymena in the first round and then I managed to score two in the quarters in Ards.”

Having helped to see off the Braidmen, the semi-final draw threw up another tie against a side Guy is synonymous with, in the shape of Coleraine.

He was to add to his quarter-final brace with another two goals, which have lived long in the memories of all Larne fans of that vintage. Two first half goals at the Oval, the first where he robbed the defender, cut in from the left and slotted home, the second a deft header from a long Vinny Magee ball up field, was enough to seal Larne’s place in the final. Their first since 1935.

“Coleraine had a decent side at that stage, but then again so did we,” he said.

“Larne had a lot of good, honest players. The likes of Vinny Magee, Paul Carland, Bryan McLaughlin and others – they had the spine of a good team and Paul Malone had them very hard to beat.”

Having seen off three of that season’s top six sides to get to the final, Glentoran lay in wait, in the decider.

“We knew it would be tough against the Glens in the final, but we had beaten them at Inver in the league that season,” he recalled.

“We also knew there wouldn’t be much in it, probably only one goal and that was how it proved, with Glentoran obviously getting it (through Gerry Mullan).

“It’s hard to know how players will react when you’re in a final, because once you get there it’s a one-off chance at it. You have to give your best, because you don’t get another chance at it.

“I was fortunate enough to win two with Coleraine, one with Ballymena, but I would have loved to win that one with Larne to be honest.

“I came to Larne when I was 33 and I suppose my experience was part of why Paul was keen to bring me in. You always try to pass that on where you can.”

Despite failing to narrowly add to his haul of silverware in that 1987 final, Guy didn’t give up passing on his experience at the age of 33. Having hung up his boots in the senior game after leaving Larne, he returned to local junior club Roe Valley.

He continued playing and coaching there until just last season…incredibly, making his last appearance at the age of 66!

“I played for them towards the end of last season, when they needed a player,” he said modestly.

“I always said I would play until I was 50. The BBC did a feature with me when I turned 50 and they asked me if I would keep going until I was 60. I laughed and said no way, but then I kept on going and was playing beyond even that.

“Playing and training is a great habit and you keep going for as long as you can. I enjoy keeping fit anyway, it just takes a bit longer to recover.

“I enjoy passing on a bit of my experience, but it just depends on the younger players, if they want to listen or take it on board.”

Having given so much time to Roe Valley, Michael hasn’t had many opportunities to take in Irish League games of late. He has, however, caught glimpses of both Larne and Coleraine – and he was impressed with what he saw.

“The last match I was actually at, was the Irish Cup final, between Coleraine and Cliftonville (in 2018),” he said.

“I watched the watched Larne Irish Cup game against Coleraine on TV last season and it was some game. Larne played them off the park in the first half, the game should have been over. Whether they ran out of steam or Coleraine changed their tactics, it all changed after half-time.

“When I look at the Irish League now, it’s a different game to the one I played in. It’s a lot more tactical. When I was at Coleraine I was lucky to play in a team who had good players in it from 1 to 11. It allowed people to go out and do their jobs.

“I remember Bertie Peacock (the manager) would have picked the team, told us what it was and just told us: ’go out and do your job’”

Going out and doing his job – goalscorer Michael Guy will be remembered for exactly that, as he came out of retirement to fire Larne to their first Cup final in more than half a century.

Larne Football Club is pleased to announce that Gary Hood has been appointed as Manager of Larne Ladies Olympic.

Daniel Carlisle left the club at the end of the last women’s season due to work commitments having guided the Olympic side to third place in Division 4 and to the Division 4 Cup Final in the team’s first ever season.

Gary Hood was William Noble’s assistant with the Larne Ladies first team for the Inver Women’s successful North 2 title winning campaign in 2018, and their promotion from Division 2 last season.

Hood stood down from his assistant managerial role with Larne Ladies to take on coaching positions with the under 18s and under 16 girls. When the Olympic Manager’s job became available, the opportunity proved to be too tempting to turn down. He will retain his current roles elsewhere in the club.

Larne Ladies Olympic is the first step into adult football and the new Olympic manager will be well placed to help players progress from underage football into the NIWFA senior set up.

Pre-season training starts at Inver Park on Tuesday night.

LARNE LADIES secured their second promotion in as many seasons with a hard fought 3-1 win away to Chimney Corner Ladies at the Antrim Forum last Wednesday.

The Inver Women showed great character to overcome the disappointment of falling to a 3-1 defeat at home to Foyle Belles seven days previously. That defeat ended their slim hopes of winning the league, but more importantly meant that they were relying on results elsewhere to keep their promotion prospects alive.

Their promotion rivals, Coleraine, needed to score three more points than Larne in their last two games. As it was, they beat Mountjoy, but also lost away to Foyle Belles. All William Noble’s team needed, therefore, was a draw against Chimney Corner to seal second place in the league.

They suffered an early setback when Wendy Elliott found the top corner of the net from 20 yards to put Chimney Corner in front in the 6th minute. Larne almost equalised immediately when Marion Gage broke through the Corner defence, but she saw her shot flash beyond the post.

With Corner playing Foyle Belles in their final match of the season, they desperately needed to win to stay in Division 2, and they played like a team with a lot at stake. They played at a high tempo, battled hard and closed down Larne very well in the early stages.

However, they struggled to maintain that, and the Inver Women started to take control of the game in the later stages of the half. The pressure told in the 39th minute. Georgia Crawford broke down the left hand side and clipped a tempted cross towards the edge of the six yard box with Kylie Doherty on hand to score.

Just before half time, Holly Robinson had a good chance to put the Inver Women ahead before the break, but saw her shot fly off target.

Larne edged in front on 65 minutes. Hannah Robinson got in behind the Chimney Corner defence and found herself in time and space, one on one with the keeper, but saw her shot come off the post. Kylie Doherty was able to follow up on the rebound to force the ball home.

Stand in goalkeeper Lynsey Baxter produced some heroics to maintain the lead when she made a spectacular stop to tip a shot onto the crossbar. It proved to be a vital save at a vital time, as Corner seemed to lose a bit of belief at that point. Only needing a point for promotion, the Inver Women were able to see the remainder of the game out quite comfortably.

A bit of gloss was put on the result as Jenny Montgomery came off the bench to smash home Larne’s third deep into stoppage time to get the promotion celebrations underway.

Larne Ladies: Lynsey Baxter, Aimee McKenzie, Lynsey Noble, Mollie McAllister, Aimee Shiels, Marion Gage, Georgia Crawford, Hannah Robinson, Kylie Doherty, Holly Robinson, Michelle Beggs.

Subs: Courtney Watson, Jenny Montgomery, Laura Noble.

WE are very pleased to announce the signing of winger Pablo Andrade.

Pablo, 19, is a former underage player at Linfield and Glentoran, as well as having a spells at Dundalk and Newry City at senior level.

The midfielder spent the majority of pre-season at Inver Park and has put pen to paper for the 2019/20 season following a successful trial.

Despite being born in Brazil, Pablo has represented Northern Ireland at under-18 level, playing alongside his new team-mate at Larne, Liam Hassin. Pablo will wear the number 22 shirt for the forthcoming season.

EVEN though Larne Ladies are well in the promotion mix, they went to play Mountjoy United in Omagh on Wednesday night still searching for their first away win in the league this season. With the league being so closely fought, nothing less than a win would do.

Mountjoy United is the Inver Women’s longest trip of the season and a 7.30pm kick off made for a quick turnaround. If this proved to be a problem, it didn’t show as Larne started on the front foot, dictating possession in the Mountjoy half.

It took just 15 minutes for the visitors to make the breakthrough. Hannah Robinson broke United’s stubborn resistance by latching onto a ball in the box and firing into the net.

The second came minutes later following some great build up play from the back as Georgia Crawford laid the ball to Helen Curneen who fired a shot from 20 yards into the top corner.

Larne kept the foot on the pedal and the third goal came when Marion Gage picked the ball up in midfield and drove through to the edge of the box and laced a shot into the far corner leaving the keeper no chance.

Mountjoy tried to play their way back into the game, but the Inver Women hit them n the break, and Marion Gage finished it off with a thunderous shot from 25 yards into the top right corner to put Larne four goals clear.

Any doubt as to the outcome was removed on the stroke of half time. Holly Robinson made a surging run from left back to deliver a dangerous cross that Kylie Doherty latched onto, turned in the box and hit her shot into the corner.

The heat on the night saw the tempo drop in the second half in spells, albeit with Larne still dictating possession and moving the ball around well, and the goalscoring continued.

The sixth goal came from one of Elle Houston’s dangerous corners, where Lynsey Noble got onto the end of to poke home.

The final goal of the night came with a well placed defence cutting pass from Georgia Crawford to Holly Robinson who carried the ball into the box and finish neatly passed the onrushing keeper.

It was a great way to end the indifferent away form in the league, and just at the right time with a clean sheet and a range of goalscorers in a great result for the Inver Women.

A particular boost was the debuts of two players who have come through the ranks. Mollie McAllister started at right back and Christine Morton came on for the last half an hour at left back with both putting in great performances on their senior debuts, having done well for the Olympic this season.

All eyes are now on Larne’s last home game of the regular league season next Wednesday when Foyle Belles, who currently top the division, come to Inver Park. Kick off is at 7.30pm. The equation for Larne Ladies is relatively simple at this point. If they win their last two games, they will be guaranteed a playoff place, and could still win the league if results go their way.

LARNE LADIES: Rea, M. McAllister, Lynsey Noble, Beggs, Holly Robinson, Gage, Curneen, E. Houston, Crawford, Doherty, Hannah Robinson.

Subs: Montgomery, Morton, Leworthy

LAST WEEK saw mixed fortunes for our women’s sides, who were both in League Cup Semi Final action.

The first team had a tough tie away where they lost 3-0 to current league leaders, Foyle Belles in the Division 2 Cup. However, our Olympic side had a happier time last Monday travelling to Banbridge Rangers in the Division 4 competition and coming away with a 4-1 win.

For the Olympic, the result was a real against the odds effort. With a number of the squad at the Foyle Cup with the Under 16’s, the Olympic only had eleven available players and had to start the game with just 10 players as Toni Millar was delayed.

However, it didn’t stop the Olympic ladies from taking the lead within 7 minutes when a ball down the line from young full back Christine Morton found the feet of Courtney Watson on the half way line. Beating 2 players, Watson cut inside and buried the ball in the bottom corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.

Despite the numerical disadvantage, the Olympic were making most of the play. Banbridge Rangers’ main threat was with a long ball and the pace of their young forwards. With Captain Paula ‘Peggy’ Mitchell, Corina Weekes, Christine Morton and the relentless Mollie McAllister, their attacks came to nothing.

Toni Millar was in the thick of the action after her late arrival and hit the post only minutes after coming on.

On 40 minutes, after a short water break in the stifling 24 degrees heat, Banbridge Rangers finally broke through and forced Olympic keeper Lauren McGuckin into conceding a penalty, which was duly converted for the equaliser.

There was still time for more drama before half time when on 47 minutes, Courtney Watson threaded through a slide rule pass to Laura Noble who outpaced the Banbridge Rangers defence and slotted home to restore the lead.

The Olympic struck again on 65 minutes when Aimee Shiels made a characteristic fierce tackle, squared the ball to Jessica McVeigh who played a delightful one touch pass into the path of Laura Noble for  her to do what she does best and beat the keeper for the 3-1 lead.

With no subs to introduce fresh legs, Larne were starting to flag in the severe conditions but this newly formed Olympic team just never give up and after Courtney Watson hit the post on 80 minutes the result was confirmed when Toni Millar controlled a high ball on her thigh, switched the ball from her right to left foot and unleashed a thunderous strike to settle the tie and put Larne Olympic into the final.

Player of the Match was awarded to Mollie McAllister who covered every blade of grass for the team and was as energetic and nonstop in defence as she was going forward.

The Olympic face the daunting prospect of taking on Lisburn Rangers in the final after they beat St James Swifts II by an incredible 15-0 in last Friday’s second semi final.

Last Tuesday, Larne Ladies made their third journey away to Foyle Belles this season but it was unfortunately not third time lucky for the Inver Women. The first half began in very hot conditions with both teams struggling to break the other team down in a typically tense semi final. Foyle Belles got the important breakthrough by hitting Larne on the break and taking the lead.

Larne went straight onto the front foot from kick off and pressed for an equaliser, a breakaway down the right hand side seen Jenny Montgomery take on her full back and burst into the box only to see her crashing effort hit the bar and bounce clear of danger.

The second half began with Larne pressing for an equaliser however being restricted to shots from outside the area, but Foyle Belles scored their second of the game from a well struck free kick from 25 yards out that found the roof of the net to put some daylight between the teams.

With two goals needed to take the game to extra time Larne changed formation and pushed more up front with three at the back. Any ideas of a comeback were prevented by some good saves from Foyle Belles’ goalkeeper and the Inver Women were perhaps unlucky not to have a penalty.

With Larne pushing forward, the third goal came from a defensive mistake from a long ball that let Foyle’s forward through one on one in goal to finish the game off.

The Inver Women will brush themselves down and look to finish their three remaining league games off on a high with the league title and promotion still a realistic possibility. They start that promotion push with a trip to Omagh to play Mountjoy United on Wednesday night.

While Larne Football Club have enjoyed success on the pitch last season it has also been a success for the club’s darts team. The Larne Inver Park Social (LIPS) team have enjoyed a season of an unprecedented season of success which saw them win all but one of last season’s competitions.

The team won the Larne Darts League, the Royal British Legion cup, the Bill Little Memorial cup, the 3-aside cup, the 4-aside cup, the 5-aside cup and the League pairs competition. Colin McGarry also won the Larne Darts League Individual competition for the team. Their only defeat coming in the final of the top 8 Cup which they lost narrowly to the Ballylumford Club.

Reflecting on the L.I.P.S. season, team Captain Colin McGarry said, “It was a very pleasing season to play in with our team almost completing the clean sweep, it is probably one of the best seasons I have played in. The L.I.P.S 2018/19 team is probably the most dominant teams I have played in in my 39 years of playing darts. We look forward to playing in the newly renovated social club for the upcoming season.”

Larne Football Club would like to congratulate the L.I.P.S. on their success and we hope that it continues for the upcoming season.

It is with great regret that the club has learned of the passing of our esteemed former chairman Mr. Maxi Burns.

Maxi (pictured right) was a well respected financial advisor in the town who diversified into the newsagents business in the well known Books Etc at Riverdale.

Upon selling the business Maxi reverted to his financial roots within Hampton Estates in Dunluce Street.

Maxi led the club with great style and vigour during his tenure through the 1980’s, with his finest hour coming with the Ulster Cup Final victory over Coleraine in 1987.

Everyone at the club passes on their condolences to his wife Roberta and the wider Burns family at this sad time.

A dramatic last minute own goal by Pascal Itter gave Larne the spoils in Tuesday’s friendly match against Chemnitzer FC at the Arena Mistrzow, Gniewino.

The goal was a well earned reward for the Inver Reds patience and persistence in a tight and testing encounter against the German Regionalliga Nordost Champions.

The game, which was originally due to kick off at 3.30pm (local time) was plunged into doubt when Arka Gdynia’s friendly against ZKS Olimpia Elblag at the same venue earlier that morning was abandoned after 55 minutes due to a waterlogged pitch. The kick off was delayed on several occasions and eventually started at 8pm (local time). When the game did get underway, conditions were still difficult. The pitch was soggy in parts, and ground staff were working right up to kick off to clear the remaining patches of standing water.

The Germans settled into the game more quickly and dominated possession in the early stages, but as the Inver Reds grew in confidence, they came into the game more and more. Both teams ultimately cancelled each other out in the opening period, with neither side managing a shot on target.

The closest the game came to a goal in the first half was when Erik Tallig saw his shot blocked by a flying Graham Kelly when the Chemnitzer midfielder was well placed to score. From the following corner, the ball broke to the back post, but Ioannis Karansidis shot wide.

Larne could only managed a few near misses and a half chance for Liam Hassin after 26 minutes.

Tiernan Lynch made nine changes at half time with only Shane McEleney and Graham Kelly playing the full 90 minutes. The Inver Men grew in confidence in the second half and became more of an attacking threat.

Marty Donnelly made an impact and had two excellent chances to score. The first came on 63 minutes. Cosgrove found Cillin Gilmour on the edge of the box, who cleverly laid the ball back to Donnelly. The midfielder curled a super left footed shot which beat the goalkeeper, but not the post.

With 20 minutes to go, Donnelly broke clear of the defence with Cillin Gilmour in close support. Larne’s number 11 chose to go it alone, but his shot was saved by Joshua Mross when Gilmour was arguably better placed to score.

Chemnitzer’s best chance of the game came with around five minutes to go when Itter’s cross was glanced by the post by Pelle Hoppe.

Itter became the villain of the piece in the last minute, however, when he contrived to divert Tomas Cosgrove’s cross into his own goal whilst under only mild pressure from Jonny McMurray.

Larne’s week long training camp continues, building up to Friday’s friendly against local Polish top flight side, Arka Gdynia. Kick off for the match is currently set for 11.30am BST (12.30pm Local). The players return home early on Saturday morning.

Larne: Mitchell, Trialist, Tilney, McEleney, Ramsey, Kelly, Hassin, Lynch, Hughes, McDaid, Stewart.

Subs (replacing all bar McEleney and Kelly at half time): Devlin, Watson, Sule, Randall, Donnelly, Graham, Cosgrove, McMurray, Gilmour.

Chemnitzer: Mross, Stosik (Langer 65), Schoppenhauer (Hoheneder 65), Reddemann (Frahn 65), Blumberg (Itter 65), Bonga (Garcia 45), Sarmov (Campulka 45), Karansidis (Mueller 65), Tallig (Hoppe 45), de Freitas (Milde 65), Bozic (Gesien 65).

LARNE FOOTBALL CLUB is delighted to launch the new update to our club badge.

As our club heads towards its 130th Anniversary, it has never been in better health. Inver Park has been transformed into a venue we can all use seven days a week and a venue of which we can all be proud. Led by Tiernan Lynch, we have a playing staff to match, as they delivered the Inver Reds’ first league title since 1972 and first Senior trophy since 1987. Last season was a special record-breaking year, which will never be forgotten at the club.

To mark this special era in the club’s history, we have modernised our club badge with the aim of emphasising everything that is important to us. The old design, which dates back to the 1970s has served the club well. The playing shirts often carried a circular version of that design throughout the 90s and early 2000s. We have now updated that design as we aim to compete at the next level, in this our 130th anniversary season.

The badge refresh concept, which was designed by Larne supporter and volunteer Andrew Neill, retains many of the elements of the well loved old badge packaged in a sharp new circular shape. As part of the design process, Larne Football Club consulted with prominent supporters, who enthusiastically approved of the refresh of the club logo.

Our identity is fundamental to our badge design. We Are Larne and we are proud of that. The name of our town and our club is displayed proudly and more prominently in our badge update.

Larne is a harbour town and the industry generated around that has sustained the town for generations. This is why the ship is the key feature in the middle of our badge, now set on waves to emphasise our town’s seafaring heritage. We have also retained the same ship design from the old badge to keep some continuity between the old and the new.

Speaking about the badge update, Kenny Bruce said: “It is especially relevant in this, our 130th anniversary, the year of 1889 will become a permanent feature on the updated badge. 

“Whilst our club has grown rapidly over the last two years, our club is also steeped in tradition as one of the country’s oldest clubs. We are looking forward with anticipation and enthusiasm, but we also keep our proud history and the contributions of everyone who has made the club what it is firmly in our minds.

“The refresh of our club logo also marks greater unity throughout our club. We are delighted to confirm that every single Larne Football Club team from the men’s and women’s first teams, right down to our youngest Youth teams will all play under exactly the same badge. One badge for one club; we are all in it together.”

Our new logo will appear around a newly rebranded Inver Park. It will also be proudly carried on all Larne Football Club kits and training wear for men’s, women’s and youth teams from this summer.

Commenting on the update, one of our Supporter Liaison Officers, Richard Todd added: “I think it’s very important that the club have retained all the emblems from the previous design.

“There’s nothing added to this modern design, and I think it looks fantastic overall.

“Hopefully the supporters will embrace this modernisation as another example of the club moving forward and I believe this new look badge will enhance the club’s already popular merchandise range.”

We hope our refreshed badge heralds an exciting and successful period for our club and town.

Be The Difference. We Are Larne.

Video

8th July 2022

MATCH REACTION | Larne 5-0 Comber Rec

Kyle McClure catches up with William Noble, after the Inver . .

8th July 2022

MATCH REACTION | Dundalk 2-1 Larne

Ian Cahoon speaks to manager Tiernan Lynch after the Inver . .

8th July 2022

INSIDE TRAINING | Pre-Season

Get access all areas as the Inver men returned to . .

8th July 2022

INTERVIEW | Daniel Kearns

Ian Cahoon speaks to new signing Daniel Kearns, as the . .