Northern Ireland Preview

Last updated : 14 July 2006 By Firparkcorner

And the many fans who will head over for a mini-holiday with some football and, more likely than not, some alcoholic refreshment will have a ball. Travelling to places off the beaten track with a friendly welcome waiting for you is a great joy of being a football fan. Given we still seem a long way off making European competition, we might have to do with a few more of these tours! We have previously gone on trips to Holland, Germany, Sweden, France and Belgium but cost considerations shelved these ideas for quite some time. Perhaps this is what we are doing with all the money raised from the Cooper Stand controversy!

Paul Quinn - first team this year?
To business, and the three fixtures we have are Crusaders on Saturday, Ballymena on Tuesday and Larne on Friday. All will provide decent enough tests as we seek to gain full fitness and momentum for the start of the season but even so, should we not secure at least a couple of victories the slight concerns harboured presently will begin to grow. It also looks as though Maurice Malpas has only succeeded in bringing in Ross McCormack in time for the trip. No midfielder as he was suggesting, no left back and no much needed cover anywhere else. It is obviously possible that negotiations could be concluded over the phone but there is no guarantee that we won't miss out on targets due to lacking the ‘personal touch' since Maurice is with the rest of the squad and Ireland. Furthermore, it would have been nice to have the signings in early enough to take part on the tour to give them a chance to bond with their new teammates. We will no doubt make the best of it though.

Mark Fitzpatrick has picked up a knock so he is a doubt and could be added to the names Kinniburgh, O'Donnell and Corrigan on the injured list. After breaking into the side in early 2005 last season never got going for Mark and it would be good to see him return this year. Considering our midfield looks threadbare at the minute, should he be fit he must be in contention for a start against Rangers on the big day.

After the tour we have our only home friendly of the pre-season with West Brom visiting on Sunday 23rd July. Fingers crossed that this week can reassure some edgy fans – both in terms of new signings and performances on the pitch.