The future is bright for Linfield

By Colin Millar

The on-going debate into Ballymena United’s Alan Davidson’s eligibility in this season’s Irish Cup has now turned into a saga.

The striker, who struck the Braidmen’s winner over Newry City in the quarter-final, was initially deemed to be ineligible and Newry were reinstated into the competition at Ballymena’s expense. However, that decision was overturned days later, before being reverted back to the original decision the week after.

Then, seven days before Newry were scheduled to meet Linfield in the semi-final the IFA announced that the case was to go to an appeal panel once more, meaning that Saturday’s semi-final is postponed (as we go to press). The appeal will be heard on Tuesday night (tonight).

This farcical situation is an unwelcome development for Linfield as it may ensure that they will have to play an exhausting four games in nine days to facilitate the rearranged fixture.

The Blues are scheduled to play Portadown on Saturday with a night fixture against Cliftonville three days later, before playing host to Coleraine the following Saturday.

There have been murmurs that Linfield may be forced to play the semi-final on or before the Monday of the following week, although this is yet to be confirmed.

The winners of the Linfield-Ballymena/Newry semi-final will play Crusaders in the final.

The Crues overcame Dungannon Swifts in a close-run semi-final on Saturday thanks to David Rainey’s second half strike.

Colin Coates was sent off late in the second half but it was too late for the Swifts, and last year’s losing finalists will get a chance to go one step better this time round.

Further to the recent news that Michael Gault and Michael Carvill both signed new long-term deals with the club, it was announced last week that Brian McCaul has signed a new two-year deal with the club.

The young midfielder has impressed during his recent loan spell at Glenavon and his new deal is well deserved and fantastic news for the club – keeping one of the league’s best young midfielders at the club until 2014.

Two other highly promising youngsters will also be challenging for places next season. Niall Quinn and Ross Clarke have both been promoted to the first team squad from Linfield’s academy.

Niall is a left-back who can also play in the centre, while Ross Clarke is a highly talented winger with superb dribbling ability.

Both are 18 and are further examples of how successful Linfield’s youth system is turning out to be.

The pair join the ranks of Aaron Burns, Billy Joe Burns, Michael Gault, Ross Glendenning, Marcus Kane, Nathan Hanley, Brian McCaul and Peter Thompson in Linfield first-team squad players who started off in the club’s youth system.

This is an academy which has also produced Northern Ireland and St Johnstone goalkeeper Alan Mannus, along with a number of highly talented rising talents such as Carl Winchester and Kirk Millar (both Oldham), Jude Winchester (Kilmarnock), Josh Robinson (Rangers), Daniel Devine and Conor McLaughlin (both Preston).

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