Many pundits who cover football across all levels like to focus on the team that top the table at Christmas or New Year as a barometer of who looks most likely to win the title. Although, I do not think anyone is paying too much attention to that in the Irish League Premiership this season given how close things are at the top.
Linfield were Top of the Pops this Christmas and New Year and followed that milestone up into 2024 with a victory over Crusaders on January 2nd. However, David Healy and his team are being closely followed by last season’s champions Larne and Jim Magilton’s Cliftonville. Both sides could be within five points of the Blues – should Cliftonville win their game in hand. That being said, as much as performances on the field will be vital to the destination of the Gibson Cup come the season’s end, I also believe that the January transfer window will be pivotal for all three clubs mentioned.
David Healy has already stated that he plans to be busy in the window when it comes to strengthening the Linfield ranks as he believes his squad are light on numbers at the moment. The Blues have also had their fair share of injuries in recent months with Robbie McDaid, Ryan McKay, Jordan Stewart and Stephen Fallon all sidelined at various times for the club in the last few months.
While Linfield plot to add strength in depth, Larne are looking to add first-team-ready quality in their hope of retaining the title. In the last couple of weeks, Cliftonville pair Chris Gallagher – set to join the Inver Park men in the summer on a pre-contract agreement – and Ben Wilson have been linked to Tiernan Lynch’s side along with Crusaders’ transfer-listed star Ben Kennedy.
Kennedy looks like he could be the most attainable of those options if the price is right in January with links to Linfield and Glentoran too but no doubt, Larne will be looking to strengthen in other areas too. For Jim Magilton and Cliftonville, their success this season has been a collective effort throughout the team with Ben Wilson and The Hale brothers – Rory and Ronan – becoming more and more prominent in the scoring charts in recent weeks. The summer signing of Ben Wilson in particular, has galvanised the Reds and their supporters who were initially sceptical of the appointment of Magilton in June.
However, if he can utilise his contacts to unearth another player of Wilson’s quality and instant impact then do not rule the Reds out of the title race too early. After all, with less than five points separating the top two sides with Cliftonville lurking not so far behind, and the transfer window now opening, this title race has all the hallmarks of an endurance race rather than a sprint and with that, I believe that it could go down to the wire.
By: Callum McFadden / @Callum7McFadden
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Cliftonville FC