Irish Premiership: Carrick boss Currie staying optimistic despite staggered season

By Andy GrayBBC Sport NI
Ben Doherty and Reece Neale challenge for the ball
Carrick Rangers last played on 2 January

After just four matches in 77 days and cut off four points adrift at the foot of the Irish Premiership table, Carrick Rangers boss Niall Currie could be excused for focusing on the negatives.

When Carrick beat Portadown on 10 November it would be the last time they would kick a ball in anger for three weeks due to a Covid-19 outbreak in their opponent's camp.

Three fixtures followed at the start of December and then the league was shut down once more until the new year.

A spirited performance against Coleraine at the beginning of January didn't yield the desired result, and a combination of frozen pitches and circuit-breakers meant football was on hold once more.

Despite all this, as Carrick side return to action against Glentoran on Tuesday night, Currie has an optimistic outlook.

"It's not ideal and it is very, very difficult to get anything going," said the 48-year-old on the club's enforced break.

"I've said to the players that we are very blessed and lucky to be playing football. A lot of people would love to be training through the week and then playing on a Saturday."

Carrick are four points off Dungannon Swifts in 11th place in the table but, crucially, have four games in hand over the Swifts. It can easily be argued that Carrick's position, largely down to their games in hand, is not reflective of their potential.

After earning promotion from the Championship, Currie's men impressed in the top flight last season and never looked in danger of relegation on their way to an eighth-place finish in the curtailed campaign.

However with the Taylor's Avenue outfit only part-time and the staggered nature of the current campaign, Currie admits it has been hard to replicate last season's performances.

"Being a club that trains two nights a week it is very hard for us to keep players at their peak and stay sharp. It will probably take us a few games to get back into the swing of things, which is the big problem," he said.

"It is going to be very difficult for us with a small squad. We are going to be three or four games behind a lot of teams and playing catch up is never ideal.

"We can't feel sorry for ourselves, Portadown are pretty much in the same position. We have to get the head down now as we are going to have matches on Saturdays and Tuesday for the foreseeable."

Jordan Jenkins
On-loan Glenavon forward Jordan Jenkins is in line to make his debut against Glentoran but Steven Gordon and Jonny Frazer will miss out against their parent club

Despite their precarious position, relegation is not a certainty for the basement side as the second-tier Championship is yet to get underway. Currie says he has not thought about the possibility of relegation and adds his full focus is on helping Carrick climb back up the table.

"We have a world of football ahead of us and that is what we are focused," he said. "If we can pick up points in the games we should be really competitive in then we know we are capable of getting back into the mix.

"A couple of wins in this league changes everything. We will concentrate on ourselves then hopefully we can raise our performance levels and pick up some points.

"We have to get momentum going again. It is about getting those games under our belt, get a win here or there and build our confidence back up again."

'We are trying to entertain'

Since the new variant of the Covid-19 virus has spread throughout the UK, concerns have grown about the viability of the traditional 38-game season.

A reduced 22-match campaign has been called for by some quarters while the option to null and void the season before starting again in the summer has also been mentioned.

Testing was introduced for players and officials last week in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus in the Irish League.

However, Currie feels that football has a role to play in general society and thinks the league should continue as long as it is safe to do so.

Former Ards and Portadown boss Currie was named Carrick Rangers manager in 2017
Former Ards and Portadown boss Currie was named Carrick Rangers manager in 2018

"We want to do a full season," he added. "If the figures are reducing with this lockdown and there is not a significant number of Irish League clubs getting Covid then hopefully we can get the 38 games played.

"I think everyone wants that. Football is a getaway for a lot of people. There are a lot of Irish League fans who stream the games, so if we can give them that platform, I think it is good for everybody.

"We are trying to entertain. I love the fact that the Premier League is still going and we have that familiarity of watching football at the weekends.

"If everything is safe and the numbers allow it, if we get the opportunity to entertain people on a Saturday then I am all for it."

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