Youngsters must step up now

RESERVE boss Gerard McMahon has called on his younger players to ‘step up to the plate’ and pick up ten victories from their last 13 matches as they bid to win the IFA Reserve League.

McMahon is set to lose up to five key players who look to go out on loan this month and the boss knows that the others must now come forward after his side went top on Friday night, beating Linfield Swifts for the second time in a month.

The Blues, now one point ahead of the current champions with a game in hand, could lose Fra Brennan, Mark Carson, Joe Finlay, Kevin Hagan and Gerard Rooney on loan as the promising youngsters search for first-team football. Carson has joined Loughgall whilst Finlay is set to move to Ards, both until the end of the season and McMahon says that the others must be careful to choose a club that will prove worthwhile in their development.

“It depends where they go to,” he said.

“If they go to a good quality side in the first division then it will be very worthwhile for them. Hopefully they won’t go to a lesser side or somewhere where they’re going to be sitting on the bench. I think our reserve side is as good as any Championship Two side anyway so they’ve got to go somewhere where it’s worthwhile.

“Hopefully they can come back to the squad better players from it. I think some of them are nearly ready for the first team as it is. For instance, Fra (Brennan) played against Marcus Kane, who is in my opinion one of the league’s best strikers and didn’t give him a kick at it.

“The next few weeks will tell a tale for us and we’ll see if the other lads can step up to the plate. There’s no reason why they can’t. They’ve stepped in before and got results.”

And McMahon is looking for 10 of those positive results during the season’s run-in and says that his side must continue to perform in the big matches, as he bids to keep his side at the top of the Reserve League ladder.

“Getting to the top is the easy bit, it’s staying there that’s the hard bit,” he said.

“There are 13 league games left and a lot of teams still have to play each other. Glentoran are six points behind us with two games in hand and we’ve still to play them twice with Crusaders and Cliftonville and a few others up there as well.

“I’d say that if we can get 10 wins from our 13 games, we will be very close. We have to make sure that we beat Glentoran and win the big matches. We seem to do well against the so-called lesser teams but we need to win the big games, like we have done against Linfield lately.”

McMahon’s side certainly have got results of late, beating Portadown 2-1 at Shamrock Park and that victory sandwiched between the 4-3 and 3-2 wins over Linfield Swifts. The boss is understandably pleased with his side’s form as they bounced back from a poor November.

“After losing four in a row, we’ve now won our last five so it sort of evens that bad run out a bit,” he said.

“It was a fantastic few wins for us. In the first game against Linfield, they had eight first team players playing while we had Fra Brennan, Mark Carson, Andy Graham and Andy Coleman from the firsts’ squad. It was a very good win for us and we played very well.

“We didn’t play as well against Portadown at Shamrock Park but we got the three points anyway. I actually thought Portadown could have had a penalty right at the end so we were lucky enough to win that one. We had a few first team players playing in that one and we lost a bit of momentum after making so many changes.

“We played very well again in the second game against Linfield and we had to in both of those games to beat them. We had quite a young team playing in that one with only Fra Brennan, Mark Carson and David Magee playing from the first team squad so the lads did really well.”

McMahon also saved a final piece of praise for Loughgall-bound Carson, who bagged a strange goal to seal the side’s second win over Linfield:

“Mark has been playing very well for us lately and scored in all three of those matches. He even scored straight from a corner in the second game against Linfield. The keeper misjudged it and Niall Lavery ran across him and it ended up going in.”