The Rise of Northern Ireland - Ards F.C


Jul 17, 2015
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Unfortunately my previous story got corrupted before it really began. So have decided to give one final go at an FM17 story.

I have decided to return to a Home Nation, after doing so well with Wales in FM16 and after watching Northern Irelands incredible World Cup qualifying campaign it just had to be them!

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So just as a reminder, this is a long term challenge whereby I will be taking charge of the Northern Irish side, Ards F.C and attempting to propel them to European Glory!

Ultimately I would love to win the Champions League, but realistically I wont be able to achieve that, even if i had the time to play 30 years, which i don't. I will therefore just play and see how far I can raise the reputation of N. Irish Football and Ards F.C.

Hopefully I will also get the opportunity to take over the National side further down the line and have ago at some international trophies.

Club Information:

Now Ards do have a little bit of history, winning the Premiership in the 1957/58 season, along with 4 N. Irish Cups and 1 League Cup. However, recently they have struggled to maintain their premier league status.

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The club has very basic facilities, including a worn down 2,750 capacity stadium containing just 500 seats.

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The Clubs books don't look very healthy at all, with a club balance of just £3,938, which I am sure will be in the red come the end of the season. Our only real chance at earning some revenue is going to be through obtaining European football, which is not a likely outcome this season.

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Squad Overview:

After doing a number of lower league saves it is quite refreshing to see a rather balanced squad! Obviously there are a lot of improvements to be made but I wasn't horrified to look at my inherited squad which is always a relief.

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So here are 3 of the top rated players currently on the books:

Emmet Friars - An experienced CB, with great leadership credentials to organise our defensive line. Despite a severe lack of pace, his strength and positioning should make him a decent defender at this level as long as we don't play a high line.

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Johnny Taylor - Another CB, who will hopefully make a telling partnership with Friars. Again he comes with a lot of experience at this level and his additional pace should help balance the backline.

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Matthew Shevlin - A young teenage striker who comes on loan from division rivals, Ballymena Utd. He has great pace and movement so am hoping he can get in behind the opposition defence on a regular basis and bang home some goals.

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I wasn't expecting to have much of a budget to work with, so was surprised to even get a surplus of around £500 p/w to spend on wages. I don't feel like i need to bulk out the squad anymore than it is so am only going to make a move for decent players who will move straight into the starting line up... although a LB is at the top of my shopping list atm.

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Pre Season:

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It was a pretty poor pre season on the whole, winning just one game out of five. The only challenging fixture we had was against Raith so to only win the one game is rather embarrassing. It did however, give me an opportunity to tinker with the tactics and have eventually established a standard 4-4-2 formation. I will need to work on some alternate tactics but atm with the squad I have, i feel this is the best suited.

My scouts really struggled to find any decent players out there on the free market, so have only brought in 2 players, leaving plenty of money aside for January, after they have done a more thorough search. Curtis Dempster joins as a young striker with a lot of potential and Ross Black join as my number one LB. I wont bother sharing their attributes as neither look to be real standout players.

I have played on a bit further on the save, so this is a complete list of transfers made during the summer window...

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Going into the start of the season the bookies have made us favourites for relegation, which is never a site you want to see. However, this does take the pressure off both myself and the team and anything above the drop will be seen as a decent season.

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My Objective for this season - Despite the bookies odds, I will be looking to consolidate Ards as a mid table side, comfortably avoiding the drop and in a position to build for challenge on a European place next season. So essentially above 8th will be my aim!
Danske Bank Premier:

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It was a very fiery, frustrating and disappointing start to the season as we picked up 5 yellow cards, conceded a soft penalty and then missed our own penalty. Despite the result, we looked quite promising, but just couldn't convert any of our chances.

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A quick fire double in the first half, saw us bounce back from our opening day defeat. It was actually a worse performance on the whole, but we took our chances and ultimately take home the 3 points.

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There was plenty of entertainment on show for the 131 fans at Stangmore Park, as Dungannon hung on with 9 men to win a 7 goal thriller. Following the red card on the 62nd minute I thought we were in with a chance and despite throwing everything we had at them in the final 10 minutes we just couldn't find the back of the net.

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A nice, comfortable win, following the drama of our last game. we always looked in control of the game and is nice to pick up a second clean sheet of the season.

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Our teenage striker, Shelvin got the all important breakthrough in the 23rd minute with a back post header. It was a very impressive defensive performance, as we gave Coleraine no clear chances on goal.

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Our impressive start to the season as put us in 4th place following the opening 5 fixtures. There is a long way to go in the season but if we keep up these kind of performances, we should comfortably avoid the drop.

County Antrim Shield:

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I rotated the squad a bit, expecting a comfortable home victory over against a side 2 divisions below us, but it took penalties to progress to the next round. We missed 3 clear cut chances in the match as our finishing let us down but ultimately we have overseen the challenge and can move forward.

League Cup:

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This time we couldn't beat the Celtic's and drop out of the League Cup rather prematurely. I'm not overly concerned about the competition and neither of the board but we really should be beating this kind of opposition. They completely out played us and fully deserved the victory, fortunately only 17 fans had to witness our dismal performance!

Like these stories, especially the one you done with Camarthan on FM2016

Am currently doing one with Shamrock Rovers, bit easier with them. I managed to get to the Europa playoff and won the league in my first season.

Ill be an interested reader so stick with it. Also make sure you double save!
Like these stories, especially the one you done with Camarthan on FM2016

Am currently doing one with Shamrock Rovers, bit easier with them. I managed to get to the Europa playoff and won the league in my first season.

Ill be an interested reader so stick with it. Also make sure you double save!

Thanks man - Am trying to do an almost identical save here just in N Ireland instead of Wales. Hopefully it will be just as successful.

Yeah conquering the domestic league can become a bit to easy after a few seasons, but Europe is the real challenge!

I think it is this new skin I am using, FM seems to keep crashing since I changed it but now keep saving after each match on 2 alternate saves so should have no issues with losing this one (fingers crossed)
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Danske Bank Premier:

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We managed to hang on for a very impressive victory over one of the League’s big contenders, despite a late onslaught on our goal. Our intensity dropped off a little in the second half allowing them back into the game but we ultimately hung on to those all-important 3 points!
Despite leading 1-0 at the break, we ended up losing the game 5-1 after a calamitous second half. We were always underdogs going into the match but to go from 1-0 up to 5-1 down in the space 35 minutes is unacceptable. Football can be a very cruel mistress at times.

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We had to work unexpectedly hard to overcome a struggling Portadown side. We bossed the game, but again our defensive frailties showed as we conceded 2 of their 3 shots on target!

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Another poor second half saw us throw away a 3-1 lead at the break having been 3-0 up earlier in the game. It is more points dropped from a controlling position and I am going to have to work on our tactics to help conserve a lead late on in these sort of matches. On the plus, new signing Curtis Dempster did finally get off the mark after 11 games without a goal!

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We drop down to 6th after a month of mixed results. However, we are still performing well above expectation and are a comfortable 5 points above the relegation playoff spot.

I should also point out the Portadown were deducted 12 points at the start of the season, hence the -9 points! So they have pretty much wrapped up the relegation spot this season!

County Antrim Shield:

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We bow out of the County Antrim Shield at the Quarterfinal stage against a strong Crusader side. I see it as a bit of a nothing trophy so am not overly bothered by the defeat.

Danske Bank Premier:

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Johnny Taylor's 6th minute dismissal, left us a man down for virtually the entire game. Crusaders made the most of their man advantage, moving the ball around well and putting 3 past our botched up defensive line. Taylor will now miss our next 2 matches through suspension.

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Despite losing one of our key defensive figures, we managed to record a well overdue clean sheet. Both wingers got on the score sheet, in an impressive first half display to earn us our first 3 points in 5 matches.

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Another solid defensive display helped earn us a second consecutive clean sheet. They recorded no shots on goal and am now questioning whether Jonny Taylor will be able to get back in my starting lineup!

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Well I did decide to bring Taylor back in and surprise, surprise we concede 2 unanswered goals. Possibly a poor decision by myself, but at the same time Dungannon are a considerably better side so I don't think it would have made much difference to the overall outcome of the match.

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Right winger, Gareth Tommons scored a dramatic late equaliser against the pre-season title favourites. We were heavy underdogs going into the match so a point here is a big bonus. Unfortunately new LB, Ross Black tore his hamstring in the game and will be out of action for the next 3-4 months. A big loss to the side and now only have one fit natural LB option to use.

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Our downward spiral continues as we slip a further 2 places down to 8th in the League. However, only 3 points separates us and 2nd place so a few good results and we could find our selves around the top 4 come the end of November.

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We were completely outclassed in this game and were lucky to lose by just the one goal. We really struggled to get going and our frustration showed as we picked up 4 bookings along with numerous fouls.

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A much better response from the lads as we bounced back from one goal down. We bossed the game against a decent side and looked very comfortable in our away victory.

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So after beating one of the better teams in the league away from home, we then lose at home to a side struggling to stay above the relegation playoff place! This should have been a 3 pointer or at least 1 point for us but instead we come away with nothing.

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Another good response to last weeks misery as we ****** the win away high-flyers Glenavon. Shelvin absolutely tore them apart, scoring 2 and assisting the third. Although he is just here on loan, i'm going to work hard to try and bring him in permanently!

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We sit 7th in the League with still only 4 points separating us and 2nd. I have just noticed that the League splits in 2 after 33 games, so we desperately need to try make that top 6 and get into the upper half.
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This was the first bore draw of my career! As the scoreline suggests it was a pretty dull game with not a lot of chances, but is still a decent away point for us.

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Star striker, Matthew Shevlin turned on the style to lead us to a very impressive away win over the League Leaders. It wasn't even a lucky win, we outplayed them across the whole field dominating possession and shots on goal. One of our best performances of the season!

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So we go from beating the League Leaders away, to losing at home against relegation stricken Portadown in the space of 7 days! It should have been a regulation win for us, based on form, but instead we hand them only there 2nd win of the entire season. Not a good day!

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We got off to a decent start, but another poor second half saw us concede 3 goals and 3 points. They were the better side on the day but we are losing far too many points from winning positions for my liking!

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We had to settle for a draw, despite our clear dominance and had to really dig deep to come back from 3-1 down. They scored all 3 of their shots on goal and serious question marks are being raised over our man between the sticks.

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Matthew Shevlin was again the hero, putting unanswered goals past Dungannon. It was a good end to the busy Christmas Period, which saw us play 3 games in 5 days!

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We creep back up a few places in the League, but it is still very tight. With just 9 games to go before the League splits, every team bar Portadown have a top 6 finish in their sights.

The transfer window is now open and I have a couple of targets lined up to help strengthen the squad for the final push.


Danske Bank Premier:

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A poor performance overall, we conceded a couple of easy goals and failed to convert any of our numerous chances on goal. It is yet more points dropped against one of the Leagues struggling sides.

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We were completely bossed on our own turf today. There was no desire, no passion and we just looked a defeated side right from the kick off. Not a good match at all.

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Finally we showed some fighting spirit! Even though we made extremely hard work of it, as they missed a penalty and got an early dismissal, we did manage to hang on at the end and claim 3 very valuable points. Still a lot of work needed but we needed a morale boost.

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The Table still looks ridiculously tight with just 8 points separating 2nd from 11th. We are right in the thick of it and are desperately craving a good run of form.

Irish Cup:

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I fielded a strong line up for the trip to Wakehurst, identifying the Irish Cup as a good wild card entry to the Europa League. As expected we controlled the game and despite numerous shots on target, only Dempster's early strike found the back of the net. Still we are through to the next round.

New Transfers:

With a little left in the wage budget, I decided to use it and bring in a couple of new faces to try strengthen our defensive frailties.

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Alan Blayney: After conceding so many soft goals, I had to bring in another keeper. With little decent options out there I had to settle with for a very experienced goalkeeper, right at the end of his career. He has previously played in the Premier League for Southampton and will hopefully offer a good short term option to our defensive woes.

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Matty Smyth: A teenage CB, with bags of potential. Despite being just 18 years old, on paper he is the 3rd best CB that we have on the books and can provide some healthy competition for a first team place. I am also considering developing a tactic to utilise our 3 CB's in the hope of adding some defensive stability.

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Danske Bank Premier:

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Another decent result against the league leaders. We played well and deserved a point out of the game. Unfortunately central midfielder, McCullough, picked up a season ending injury. Although he is not a first team player, we have a very thin squad and are now down to just 3 fit, natural CM's for the remainder of the season.

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Teenager, Chris Dempster continues to improve and scored a first half brace to earn us the win. They scored late on to set up a tense final 10 minutes, but our defence held firm.

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We couldn't carry our form over, and looked well off the pace against Glenavon. Shelvin's late goal gave us some hope of securing a point, but a draw would have been very harsh on Glenavon.

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The League is still as tight as ever with just 3 games to go before the split. We are going to need a couple of wins from our last few games but are still in with a real chance of getting into the top 6.

Another poor performance against a lower division side. I fielded a strong side and is rather inexcusable to go out at home in the manner that we did. The Irish Cup is a quite an important competition and would really have liked to challenge for the trophy. All our attention is now on the League!
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It was looking like a comfortable away win against relegation stricken Portadown, until 2 late goals led to a very nervy final 5 minutes. We managed to hold on to a deserved win, but our defensive problems have been highlighted yet again.

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A feisty, physical encounter ended in a draw as both sides knew the importance of a result here today. It was a good performance from us today an we really limited their opportunities on goal.

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A massive, 2-0 away win at Linfield in the final game of the season secures us a top 6 finish! Black's first goal for the club put us on our way before Dempster doubled our lead before the break.

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We make the top 6 by a single point, highlighting the importance of that final day victory at Linfield. The lowest we can now finish is 6th, well above our predicted relegation battle. So with 5 games to play, we are chasing a top 4 finish to try and secure a European place for next season.

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The board were clearly happy with our season and decided to renew my contract. I was pushing to sign a 2 year deal, but unfortunately they were only willing to commit to a 1 year extension.

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We now have to play 5 games in 9 days! Some pretty crazy scheduling and with a thin/weak squad we don't really have the ability to rotate and rest players... so this could be interesting.
Good luck with the last 5 games. Top 4 place looks manageable, but a European place in your 1st season would be a terrific result.

I like the league split and then the games coming thick and fast - adds some excitement to the end of the season
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We start the league split with a narrow victory over Glenavon, curtesy of a first half Curtis Dempster header. It was a tight game, but we edge a bit closer to place in the Europa League.

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Dempster strikes again to give us another crucial 3 points! We dominated the game and probably should have made it a little easier for ourselves by scoring a couple more but either way, we held on!

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Matthew Shevlin slotted home from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game to send us back to Bangor with a point. We were lucky to come away with anything in the end but I really can't complain.

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Dempster's brace sees us secure another 3 points against 10 man Linfield. It was a very close game before the dismissal, but we made the most of our man advantage for the 25 minutes and our in-form striker took advantage.

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Arthurs 84th minute goal gave us a chance and nicking a late equaliser, but league leaders, Cliftonville proved too strong in the end. It was a valiant effort but our 7 game unbeaten streak comes to an end in the last game of the season.

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We manage to scrape 2nd place after a terrific late surge. We have by far exceeded our start of season expectation and for some strange reason perform better against the top sides. Plenty to build on for next season and with the right additions a top place finish could be on the cards!

Good luck with the last 5 games. Top 4 place looks manageable, but a European place in your 1st season would be a terrific result.

I like the league split and then the games coming thick and fast - adds some excitement to the end of the season

Thanks mate - Somehow we managed to pull it off and bagged that all important European place. Can finally look forward to having some money in the clubs funds!

Exactly and split seemed to work for us, so really cant complain about it :)
Bringing back memories from the start of my save! Be good to test yourself in Europe so early on

Keep up the good work
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End of Season Review

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The classic 4-4-2 was our go to tactic for much of the season as we take a look at our team of the season.

Dempster and Shevlin formed a prolific partnership upfront, as we scored the second most goals in the league (60). Unfortunately we did also show a lot of defensive frailties, conceding 57 in 38 games (3rd most in the league). With the right additions and a tighter defence, we could be a real title contender next season.

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I was awarded the Manager of the Year award, following our 2nd place finish. We had been favourites for the drop at the start of the season, so many (including myself) were surprised to see us qualify for the Europa League.

Following on from that success, we have been drawn against Austrian side, SK Sturm Graz for our Europa League first qualifying round. We will be underdogs going into tie, but have been all season and that didn't end so badly, so who knows what will happen!

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Not a huge amount of movement in our club stature, moving up just the one place to 11th in N Ireland. The Danske Bank Premier League also crept up a couple of places in terms of it's competition rating.

Hopefully some European success can bolster these by next season.

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Europa League 1st Qualification Round

Frustratingly, the squad registration period closed a few days before the transfer window opened! I therefore had to use the squad from last season, with the exception of our top goalscorer, Matthew Shevlin, who's loan spell came to an end.

Not an ideal situation at all!

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Despite my frustrations, we fielded a familiar line up to last season, but were narrowly edged out by our Austrian opponents. They made the most of a 40th minute freekick and poor marking allowed Kienast a free header at the back post. We are now going to need a miracle in the away leg to progress to the next round.

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It looked as though it was going to be a terrible day at the office, when they scored a goal in the opening minute. However, right winger, Gareth Tommons scored a terrific equaliser just 2 minutes later to give us some hope. Despite our best efforts, it just wasn't to be and as expected we bow out at the first round in front of our massive away following of 2...

We performed much better than i expected and did ourselves proud. It was a fantastic experience and gives us a brief taste of the competition, which also leaves us with a tidy £200K in the bank. Now that;s a lot of money for a side spending around £3,000 a week on wages!

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Pre - Season

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Pre season went pretty well on the whole as I worked on a couple of new tactics. I arranged a tough fixture against, Kilmarnock to end pre-season to try gauge where we are with the new squad, but an early red card led to a rather unpleasant 4-0 trashing.

Five new faces have been brought into the club, most having been signed on pre-contract agreements before the end of the season. I also managed to gut out a number of players who were merely eating away at the wage budget.

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So here are a couple of the new recruits:

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Brendan Shannon: An experienced right back, signed from the relegation stricken, Portadown. He is a versatile player that can also offer cover across a number of positions should he be needed. Can easily slot into my 4-4-2 formation.

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Mark McAllister: Another former Portadown player, brought in to replace the loss of Matthew Shevlin up front. Despite only scoring 7 goals last season he has some strong attributes and can hopefully form a formidable partnership with Dempster upfront.

So we start the season with a much stronger squad than last season. I now have a backup player for every position within a 4-4-2 formation and feel a title challenge could really be on the cards.

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