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[FM22] Donegal Celtic - Building a nation from the ground up


pheelf
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I decided for FM21 to try something a bit different and went to manage a club in Peru called Union Minas. As much as I enjoyed the save, there was a number of things which meant that I wasn't as captivated by it as I should have been. Firstly, all the crazy rules which made transfers and building a squad strong enough to win the Copa Libertadores difficult. Secondly, the fact that I couldn't actually improve the status of Peruvian football within South American football which meant that no matter how much I built the nation there was a hard cap as to what I could achieve. Lastly, I never really felt the same buzz to play the game, it felt like too much of an effort so I ended up playing far fewer seasons than I usually do (plus life getting in the way).

Therefore given that experience, I've decided that I'm going back to familiar surroundings and trying to once again build a nation with N. Ireland. I had considered other leagues around Europe but there is just something about N. Ireland which makes for a good long term save. This time however I think the challenge of getting to the top of N. Irish football is going to be that much harder. Linfield, Crusaders, Glentoran and Larne are all professional clubs whereas before you had only 2. I'm excited about the challenge however and am keen to learn how the changes to staff (seeing how I delegate so many tasks), improved dynamic rivalries (which I didn't feel worked at all previously), AI willingness to offer installments will affect us when/if we become a selling club. Overall, a lot to be hyped about, let's get started.

Game Setup

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As always I'm playing with a large database and loaded all the international players from around the world, I do that just in case at some point I would like to venture into international management. All the leagues out of the box from the UK & Ireland are playable alongside the top divisions of the top 5 European nations. I've also decided to add in this save view-only top divisions from the nations in positions 6-10 in the coefficient (except Scotland which is fully playable already) which I'm hoping will make the save a bit more challenging, I've reused the club and competition badges which are provided in the megapack from fmscout.com. I've decided against placing any restrictions such as a youth only policy or using a Director of Football to make all my signings. I feel grinding for season after season hoping for good intakes or trying to be successful when your DoF is making a bunch of dud signings would severely slow down progress. I will however still prioritize signing players 23 or under. I'll be starting unemployed and will only be able to take over at clubs which don't have a manager in place.

Manager Attributes

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My manager attributes are as poor as possible with an emphasis once again placed on the determination attribute as I'd like to be able to more easily convince my board when it comes time to start asking for requests. Even with these attributes I got offered an interview with Newcastle United which I thought was a little bit strange, I went just for curiosities sake but obviously I didn't get the job and it went to Brendan Rodgers who was replaced by Gennaro Gattuso at Leicester City.

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There were no jobs of interest at the very start of the save so I opted to wait. Then after a little while the Portadown job became available and I applied for it. They offered me the job but I rejected it as I didn't feel like it would be very realistic, a Johnny no name rocking up with no experience whatsoever and getting to manage a club in the top flight? Nah. Besides, I wouldn't really be starting from the bottom up if I accepted that role. Then of course the Cliftonville job came up and I applied for that, thankfully, they didn't offer me that job so I didn't have a decision to make. Then of course there was a bunch of other lower leagues clubs who sacked managers but I didn't apply as I wanted ideally to work at either a club of a good size already or one based in Belfast with a lot of potential. That opportunity simply didn't present itself the whole first season but then the season reset date came and the job which did fit the criteria became available.

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Ticks all the boxes for me, a Belfast based team with a reasonably sized stadium and a bunch of potential. It also classifies as a team that if I can make successful would be coming from the very bottom of the N. Irish footballing pyramid (from the out of the box leagues) which fits perfectly with the narrative of the save.

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History

Considering that the club was only founded in 1970 they have a rather fascinating history and must be one of only a few teams in N. Irish football to have competed in the 4th, 3rd, 2nd and top tiers. Affectionately known as the 'The Wee Hoops', they are a club whose traditions are modeled on those of Glasgow Celtic across the Irish Sea. Depicted on the mural is Paul McVeigh, the former Norwich City and N. Irish international striker who is the most renown player ever to play for the club. Based in Belfast, they are considered one of the weaker teams in the city when compared with the likes of the Big 2 or Crusaders and Cliftonville. That however hasn't prevented them from gaining some accolades within N. Irish football while competing for a time among the elite teams in the country. They won the Steel & Sons Cup in 2003-04 and have lifted the Intermediate Cup twice in seasons 2005-06 and 2009-10, the latest of which being the last major triumph.

They have largely been a club which bounced around the non league scene with the 1990s being a dominant era for the club when they won the Intermediate League on 6 occasions and numerous lower league cups. After winning the Intermediate League for the 8th time in 2001-02 they were finally admitted into the 2nd division of N. Irish football (3rd tier) in 2002-03. They finished their first season in 5th which owing to league reconstruction gave them promotion into the 2nd tier for the 2003-04 season. The first season at that level finished disappointingly for them by finishing 8th but they soon acclimatized to their new surroundings and improved the following season to finish 3rd and then went one better in the season after that and finished 2nd which gave them promotion to the top flight for the 2006-07 season after a 3-1 aggregate win over Institute in the promotion playoff. They then spent 2 seasons in the top flight before being relegated, then spent 2 seasons in the 2nd tier got promoted again then spent another 3 seasons in the top flight. The 2012-13 season was their last in the top flight with them only narrowly getting relegated in the playoff on away goals to Warrenpoint Town.

That relegation proved to be a decisive turning point for the club and since then there has been a steady and consistent decline with the 2017-18 season resulting in them being relegated out of the top 3 divisions for the first time in 15 years and back into the 4th division where they have played up until now. They haven't really done anything in the bigger cup competitions and have never appeared in European competition.

Trophies Won

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Not much to shout about there but considering the club has only been playing league football for 15 years this is quite an impressive haul. If they listed all the Intermediate League and lower league cup wins also it would be a lot more trophies. In total the club has won 24 different pieces of silverware which isn't bad considering they won their first trophy in 1989, 24 trophies in 33 years is quite good in comparison with a lot of other clubs.

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Club

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I'm really happy to see that we have a fierce rivalry with the best club in N. Ireland. I'll be hoping to reignite that historic rivalry but I know that will take time as the gap between the two clubs is enormous. I would like to develop more rivalries with the other Belfast based clubs also. We don't have any legends, icons or favoured personnel which is interesting but in time hopefully we can populate these lists.

Facilities

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A number of positive aspects to the facilities at the club. Firstly, the club owns the stadium which is great as it means that the capacity can be expanded. Secondly, the potential expansion capacity isn't too bad neither standing at 8,000 which wouldn't be an insubstantial size. Lastly, we have a grass surface which is much more preferable than the synthetic surfaces a lot of the other N. Irish clubs have at their grounds. Unfortunately, outside of that everything else is as rudimentary as it gets. It would be a huge benefit for the club if we could share Queen's University's great training facilities but that will only really become a possibility once we have surpassed them and can sign them as a junior affiliate.

First Team Squad

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I'm rather encouraged by this as we have a few players which are considered good enough not just for the 3rd division (NIFL PIL) but for the 2nd division (NIFL CH). Of course there will need to be a lot of additions made to the squad but the fact that our media predictions has us as capable of finishing 3rd with this squad is fantastic as I'd like to start climbing the ladder as soon as possible. My only point of concern would be the age profile that is quite a bit older than I'd like which isn't great. Only two players which are under 23 isn't good for the longer term but thanks to non-contracts I shouldn't have any issue moving on players and refreshing the team. If I can build around our better players then I feel we should have a team strong enough to challenge for promotion.

Reserve Squad

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Nothing but greyed out players in the reserves so I can't look here for players.

U18s Squad

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I'm not really sure why these players were in the U18s squad but never mind. Having looked at them however they all aren't good enough to play for the club and I will look to see their ability levels by placing them in the first team then probably release them.

Finances

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Two very positive aspects to this, the first being the positive bank balance which is always nice to see. The second being the money left on the wage budget. You can bet that if I was to spend the entire wage budget that we would quickly drop into the red but you know what, if that's what is needed to assemble a strong enough squad to challenge for promotion then so be it.

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Starting Conditions

At the start of the 2nd season, the DBP is the 147th most reputable league in Europe rising from 156th at the start of the first season which is a good sign. Another good sign is the fact we are nowhere near losing any qualification spot for Europe which is great. The honours handed out at the end of the first season (2021-2022) are follows.

DBP Winner - Linfield - Won at an absolute canter finishing a whopping 17 points ahead of 2nd placed Glentoran.

Championship Winner - Dergview - A massive upset, even more shocking the relegation of Institute who will play in our division next season.

Premier Intermediate League Winner - Lisburn Distillery - Another shock winner, just pipped Dollingstown on goal difference but they went up anyway beating Annagh United in the playoff.

Irish Cup Winner - Glentoran - Won the final 2-1 AET against Dungannon Swifts.

League Cup Winner - Larne - Beat Cliftonville 3-1 in the final.

County Antrim Shield Winner - Crusaders - Won the final 2-1 AET against Larne.

Mid Ulster Cup Winner - Warrenpoint Town - Beat Dungannon Swifts 1-0 in the final.

Steel & Sons Cup Winner - Strabane Athletic - Beat Belfast Celtic 2-1 in the final.

Intermediate Cup Winner - Strabane Athletic - Beat Chimney Corner 2-1 in the final completing a remarkable double for the non league team.

Disappointingly, Crusaders reverted back to semi-professional status at the end of the season leaving only 3 professional clubs in the country which are Linfield, Larne and Glentoran. It very much looks as if Linfield are poised to dominate N. Irish football given how easily they won the DBP.

Career Objectives

Ultimately, the aim is to dethrone Linfield at the summit of N. Irish football and turn the club into a force on the continent. How long I will stay with the club is anyone's guess but I would like to at least lead them back to the DBP and establish them there. The boards 5 year plan is as follows:

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The board aren't an ambitious bunch but that could work in my favour as it means I can go about my business without the added pressure. I'd like to think I can build a team strong enough to blow out these goals and if we weren't at least challenging for a playoff spot this season I'd be disappointed. If after 5 years I was still competing in the 3rd division I'd probably retire as manager there and then. My own personal goals would be that I'd like to be competing in the DBP within 5 years. That gives me 2 years to get promoted from the 3rd division and another 3 years to get promoted from the 2nd division. I think the main competition this season for promotion will come from Institute and Annagh United who just got relegated.

A long road lies ahead but it should be an exciting journey. Into the breach we go.

 
Edited by pheelf
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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2022 / 2023

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Getting a mid table finish would satisfy the board but with that comes nothing that would help to progress the club. The gaps between the teams isn't large enough to make me believe that we can't at least challenge for promotion. A few additions and I expect us to be in the picture.

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League Table - This was an interesting season which had everything to play for right up until the very end. We started the season really poorly with only 1 win and 2 draws in the first 6 games which had us slumped near the foot of the table. With only 5 points on the board out of a possible 18, I was worried that perhaps I had overestimated us. Maybe instead of going for a promotion challenge maybe the board was right and we would need to fight to even finish in mid-table. Then seemingly out of nowhere our form changed dramatically as we won 4 out of the next 6 and drew the other two. That mini run elevated us from 10th to 5th and within striking distance of the top 2 with 10 games left to play. That seemed to give us fresh belief and we went the rest of the season unbeaten which may appear impressive but wasn't actually all that great given we only won 4 and drew the other 6 games. Thankfully for us, Institute who led the table up to matchday 17 had a mini collapse which allowed us to capitalize and clinch 2nd even though we drew all of our last 3 games. The pivotal moment coming on matchday 19 where we managed to beat our rivals P.S.N.I. 3-0 while Institute lost to Tobermore United, that result allowed us to overtake them meaning that we got away with just matching their 3 draws to end the season above them.

Lough41 Championship/Premier Intermediate League Promotion Playoff - To have any chance against Dollingstown we needed to be able to go to Planters Park with a lead and thanks to a late goal to put us up 2-0 in the 1st leg we got that comfortable advantage. All we needed was a boring 0-0 draw and we were up, well the team had other ideas and when Dollingstown went 2-0 up on the 63rd minute our advantage had disappeared. At that point, they looked overwhelming favourites to win the tie. Thankfully, when you need to pull a rabbit out of a hat we have Templeton MC and his wonderful free kicks. When he pinged in a beauty past the goalkeeper in the 89th minute that completely relaxed me and as Dollingstown desperately looked for an equalizer in stoppage time we picked them off on the counter to score the equalizer and secure a spot in the Championship for next season. A fantastic end to a disjointed season, I guess in the end, it doesn't matter how you start, it's how you finish a season that matters. Overall, I'm just delighted we got promoted and ahead of schedule too :D.

Domestic Cups - As if promotion wasn't enough we also managed to somehow navigate our way to an amazing cup double. Once again Templeton blasting in a free kick to hand us the win in the Intermediate Cup final. The financial injection from winning those cups really did help us to avoid ending the season deep in the red. We were never winning the League Cup tie vs Linfield but at least it provides us some indication of how far we need to go to even compete with them. We gave a good account of ourselves in the Irish Cup against Carrick Rangers. For some reason we don't compete in the County Antrim Shield which is a shame as it is a missed opportunity to make more money but it's no great loss to us.  

Reserves - I'm surprised they finished that high, remarkable considering they didn't really have any players in the squad. It proved exceptionally helpful in keeping the first team squad fit though which was good.

Under 18s - No youth league until we reach the DBP but that's fine, had no players in the squad anyway until youth intake day.

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Squad - They did a great job and perhaps if we could have gelled them a bit sooner, promotion would have been achieved more easily. We will however be ripping the first team apart and starting again as we only have Templeton and Tipton MC who my coaches consider good enough to play in the Championship. That might sound a bit cruel and disloyal considering how much we overachieved but even though there are a few high potential players in there I don't think we have the ability to develop them to play at the new level. Managing the squad was a bit of nightmare to be fair, players constantly complaining about a lack of playing time and the poor quality of training. They had a point but that didn't make it any more fun to deal with. I also tried to act as a feeder club for the DBP by bringing in some young talented players on loan, unfortunately, I simply couldn't offer them the game time they wanted so all the loans I brought in were cancelled before completion. Hopefully, with promotion I can bring the best of those players in and offer them playing time.

Transfers Part 1 / Transfers Part 2 - A large amount of activity but not one of the loans was a success. There was no real standout stars but as a collective they performed excellently. I anticipate even more activity next season.

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Average Rating: 7.32
An excellent signing who was often expected to fill in at central defence. For his first full season he did a decent job although I don't feel he will be strong enough to compete in the Championship, perhaps as a backup but no more than that.
 
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Average Rating: 6.97
We had a bit of a rocky relationship me and Reece. When he first came in I didn't feel he was capable enough to displace Monaghan ST so didn't really play him. He reacted really badly to this and we ended up having a big bust up which resulted in him threatening to leave the club. At that point, I could have just given up on him and let him go but unlike other players in the squad I decided to persevere with him. I don't know why but I just saw something in him that I didn't feel I should lose. Slowly I started to give him some starts and although he started with some below par performances he quickly improved and soon became a player than I couldn't drop. Now, our relationship is still distant and he isn't overly impressed with me but we have an understanding which is much better than it was. Whether he is good enough to play in the Championship is another question, I don't think so but he can always try to prove me wrong.
 
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Finances - The cup wins really helped to drag us out of what would have been a huge loss for the club. I was really struggling to stay within the wage budget and I can't see that changing next season either. I'll use every penny possible as the sooner we get into the DBP, the better it will be. The ability to sign non-contracts really does help us as I can just remove players without having to pay compensation, it really does give a level of flexibility that wouldn't be possible with contracted players. It's of course not great for some lower ability players who can easily be disposed of but when the shoe is on the other foot for the better players they would not look back should they get offered a contract at a club they wish to move to, it works both ways. 

Facilities - Owing to the fact that we are basically pot-less, understandably the board wouldn't allow me to improve anything.

Youth Intake Part 1 / Youth Intake Part 2 - All those gold stars by potential look pretty nice don't they. Shame there isn't much chance that any of those players will get anywhere near realizing that potential. They aren't playing in a league and our facilities are terrible. Finally, they are too weak to get first team appearances so unfortunately I don't see how they actually develop as players.
 
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League Reputation - I'm happy to see the DBP rising up although it's really crawling at the moment.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - At least people around N. Ireland know who we are given our National reputation which is good.
 
Club European Reputation - We don't register as we've never been in Europe and don't look like doing so any time soon.
 
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Edited by pheelf
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Good luck with Donegal Celtic! You're time in Northern Ireland was great to see a couple of FM's back! My first save was actually going to be in Northern Ireland as well, if I could get a team other than Belfast or Donegal Celtic to get promoted, sadly that did not happen! :lol:

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14 minutes ago, Makoto Nakamura said:

Good luck with Donegal Celtic! You're time in Northern Ireland was great to see a couple of FM's back! My first save was actually going to be in Northern Ireland as well, if I could get a team other than Belfast or Donegal Celtic to get promoted, sadly that did not happen! :lol:

Thanks for the kind wishes, your save in Wales looks great, making big strides already :thup:

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On 29/10/2021 at 22:29, Makoto Nakamura said:

Thanks for that! Thankfully I only have TNS to deal with long term, you've got four teams to try and topple!

True, I think Linfield is going to be my TNS in this save, they are so dominant at the moment it's frightening.

On 29/10/2021 at 23:34, withnail316 said:

'Mon the wee Hoops!

Best of luck, man. 

Thanks for the good wishes, it's going to be quite the challenge I feel.

23 hours ago, deltablue said:

This should be fun.

I'm hoping so too, I'm already ahead of schedule by getting promoted in the first season but I sense it's going to get a lot tougher from here on out.

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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2023 / 2024

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I'm very pleased to have been promoted out of the 3rd division at the first time of asking, that gives me 4 years to try and get out of the Championship and still be on target for playing in the DBP in 5 seasons. I hope that with some strong signings I might be able to challenge for the playoffs. A season of consolidation wouldn't be the worst thing ever though, relegation would be disastrous so I will be desperate to avoid that at all costs.

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League Table - I'm happy enough with this finish even though it fell below where I might have hoped for. We were really inconsistent and I think that really hampered us throughout. We just couldn't get any momentum going, our form was like a traffic light, we'd win a game, draw one and then lose one. We only suffered one heavy defeat when we lost 3-0 to Dundela in the 2nd game of the season, the majority of our losses were by the odd goal which is encouraging as it shows we are not that far off competing in the top half. I learnt a lot from this season, if we are to do better next time around, we need to start better and get our transfer business done early. We also need to score more goals, only relegated Knockbreda scored fewer. It would also help us immensely if we could cut down the amount of silly defensive mistakes which lead to us conceding so many. Overall, it's progress but I would like to see a lot more next season. Institute and Carrick Rangers will be joining the Championship next season after promotion from the PIL and relegation from the DBP respectively.

Domestic Cups - We got placed into the County Antrim Shield this season but didn't get the opportunity to defend the Intermediate Cup or the Steel & Sons Cup as we weren't entered. Once again we drew Linfield in the League Cup in the first round which was annoying but I'm encouraged to see us take them into extra time even if ultimately we lost, a significant improvement from last season. The Irish Cup was better in terms of progress but as soon as we came up against DBP opposition we lost, it was close though.

Reserves - They were decent, the scheduling of the fixtures is a bit weird though. Some parts of the season you have a game every other day then there is December and January when you only have one fixture in each month. I can't imagine that is how it's supposed to work.

Under 18s - The youth team is now filled with players but they have no fixtures to play which is proving damaging to their development. This is one of the reasons why getting to the DBP is so important.

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Squad - Much like last season, I started by having a huge roster of players but as the season progressed I began to trim the size down and focus on raising the average ability level of the first team. Once again, the squad management was difficult with players constantly coming to me asking for more first team football which damaged some players morale throughout. I will however say that I think I've built a solid foundation for next season as the bulk of the players now are good enough to play in the Championship. The next task in squad building is to identify players which are capable of playing in the DBP or maybe just slightly short of that level. I think by doing that we should then have enough to challenge within the top 6. I'm very pleased that the average age of the squad has significantly fallen and that I'm starting to see for the first time players actually developing and improving their attributes. It wasn't all that helpful however that we couldn't hire another assistant manager after our previous one left until after the season ended.

Transfers - I had hoped to more thoroughly exploit the loan market but the reality was there wasn't really any players available that would actually improve the squad. The only one being Martin MC who played a significant part of the season, Rolleston MC frustratingly didn't play a single game for us on loan and opted to sign for Ards on a free which is annoying considering how he helped them to promotion to the DBP. I added some real quality to the team which I was pleased about and will be hoping for more of the same next season. We will have to be a bit more discerning however as we will have to work within the same wage budget.

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Average Rating: 7.18
He's not very good but is the best fit we have for the Deep Lying Forward role in the tactic. He is only good for the division below so we desperately need to find a strong and commanding striker to take us to the next level. His goal return was quite poor and our lack of goals is one of the major weaknesses we have. To give him his dues, he was relatively consistent but we need better.
 
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Average Rating: 7.24
He finished our top scorer which was good but only got 15 goals which is less than a goal a game. That's terrible from a player we expect to be our main source of goals, realistically, we need a goal a game striker to even consider challenging at the top of the Championship. I think the finishing attribute of 6 isn't exactly helpful and my coaches don't feel he has the footballing intelligence to play at a higher level.
 
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Finances - We simply aren't going to make any money staying at this level in the longer term. The ability to only offer non contracts means we can't hold onto our players should they desire to move which means we can't operate as a selling club either. We had a board takeover with former owner Christopher Harkin being replaced by local businessman Conal Finlay. He didn't invest any money into the club but strangely took out a 5-year loan for £1.9K which seems entirely pointless considering our monthly losses usually exceed that amount. The sooner we get to the DBP the better, the longer we take the harder it's going to get.

Facilities - Unsurprisingly we made no changes.

Youth Intake - We actually got some reasonable players and Grace ST already looks attribute wise better that some of our first team strikers. I signed all the elite and top talents but the rest weren't offered a contract. For some reason we really struggled to bring in a HoYD but thankfully we managed to bring one in after the season ended.
 
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League Reputation - Still moving in the right direction which is encouraging, only a few more places until the DBP reaches 1.5*.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - We actually became less reputable and are no longer recognized nationally which is a bit strange. Mind you, it appears to be a trend across the whole of N. Ireland, even Linfield's reputation declined but I suppose that makes sense. 2* team winning a 1* league is going to lose reputation.
 
Club European Reputation - I think once/if I reach the DBP I'll start reporting how the other N. Irish teams get on in Europe in this section.
 
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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2024 / 2025

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The board would like another mid table finish but I’d like to set the sights a bit higher by aiming for the top half. If we can do that, then who knows we might have an outside chance of making the playoffs.

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League Table - We started the season really well with 2 wins from our first 2 games which had me optimistic that we were going to be competing toward the top end of the table. Unfortunately, the wheels came off completely and we proceeded to lose 5 out of the next 7 and draw the other 2. This had us in 11th and had me deeply concerned that we were going to be in a relegation battle. Something needed to change and with the addition of some free transfers in October and November our form began to recover. We were still adrift of the top 6 and to stand any chance of making it I knew we would need to be perfect in December. Thankfully, we were, narrowly winning both games and then following that with a win in the last game before the split against Queens University.

It was narrow but we squeezed into the top 6 by a point which ensured our position in the Championship for another season. I was determined not just to make up the numbers in the top half and took encouragement from the fact that we still had some room in the wage budget and were only 8 points off 3rd place with 10 games to play. Therefore I went full force into the transfer market and strengthened the team as much as I could. It seemed to work wonders and our form blossomed as we went unbeaten after the split. We did only win 4 of the games but as the others ahead of us took points off each other it allowed us to set up a playoff showdown with Portadown on the final day where only a win would do. We won the game 1-0 to give us a shot at promotion.

Danske Bank Premier / Lough41 Championship Playoff - I really didn’t expect us to win through and get promotion but off the back of a pair of very strong home results in the 1st legs we managed to do it. It took a late scrambled goal against Queens University in the Championship playoff to break the deadlock but that win gave us a strong foundation for the 2nd leg. When we scored after 12 minutes in the 2nd leg, I knew we were practically into the Championship/DBP Playoff. They applied pressure in an attempt to get back into the game and were rewarded with a goal in the 72nd minute. Seeing that they only needed 1 more goal, I then proceeded to shut the game down by making some defensive changes and that enabled us to hold on to face Loughgall.

In a lot of ways, Loughgall was probably the best opponent I could have hoped for. They had just been promoted the previous season and didn’t strengthen all that much so I thought we had a reasonable chance of at least competing with them. My thoughts proved to be correct and when we grabbed a 95th minute goal through Holland ST to put us 2-0 up I knew we were in the driving seat in the tie. When he scored again in the 13th minute of the 2nd leg and Krajnovic netted a penalty in the 39th minute to put us 4-0 up on aggregate I knew we had done it. They grabbed a consolation in the 63rd minute but couldn’t really muster anything to reduce the deficit further. Top flight football here we come!!...Let’s hope we can do better than Dergview a couple of seasons ago who on promotion only managed to gain 5 points the whole season.

Domestic Cups - We didn’t do well in the County Antrim Shield and League Cup but I guess that makes sense given how much we were struggling for form in the league at the time. As our league form improved so did our performance in the cups and this was shown with the run to the quarter finals of the Irish Cup. I didn’t know it at the time but we would lose to the eventual winners Portadown who went on to beat Linfield 1-0 in the final which is an unbelievable achievement for them. Has a 2nd division side ever won the Irish Cup before? I’m not sure but it probably won’t be very good for the coefficient next season. That result in the final capped a pretty rotten season for Linfield, they not only lost the Irish Cup final put also lost out on defending the DBP title, finishing a point behind Larne.

Reserves - A massive decline compared to last season. Hopefully, now that we’ve been promoted it will help with the clumped fixture schedule as there will be 5 less games to play. They will however be competing in the Intermediate Cup and the Steel & Sons Cup. It will be interesting to see how they fare.

Under 18s - It’s going to make such a huge difference for them to be playing in competitive fixtures next season. Having only friendlies has really hampered the development of the youth team players.

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Squad - I felt I did relatively well to strengthen the team; it took a while to do it as the better players weren’t available early in the season but I’m satisfied. They definitely overachieved as the only player with a 1 next to his name is Wakefield ST which denotes that my coaches think he is good enough to play in the DBP. The rest of the players are denoted with a 2 indicating that they are good enough only for the Championship. I took a bit of a ruthless approach after starting the season poorly which I think helped the situation. By releasing a lot of the players only good enough for the PIL or 4th tier; that freed some space on the wage budget which I could then use to bring in quality rather than have an oversized squad with players that weren’t good enough anymore to help us progress.

It was still very difficult to manage the squad with the constant demands for playing time from some which meant I had to end up releasing a lot of unhappy players. I’ll still be able to do that next season as I still won’t be able to offer part time contracts so at least I should retain that flexibility. It will be restricted slightly however with the need to register squads which can only be done during transfer windows. That means signing players on a free to play immediately like I did this season will not be possible. We will need to dramatically strengthen however to stand any chance of staying up as we were lucky to get promoted in the first place. Whether that will be possible is open to debate given that all but one of the first team are players only good enough for the Championship according to my coaches. I’ll likely keep players that my coaches think with development can play at the new level but I don’t feel there are many of them in the squad.

Transfers - The loan market once again proved to be less fruitful than I was hoping although we did manage to hold onto some players which helped us. Those October and November free transfers were really transformative to our season however, without them our form would not have improved which likely would have resulted in a relegation battle considering our form before their introduction. The players brought in to the club in January were also another massive shot in the arm which propelled us up the table. I sense I’m going to need to be very astute in the transfer market next season, we did get an increase to the wage budget but I’m not convinced it’s enough to strengthen all the areas required.

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Average Rating: 7.20
He didn’t play as much as last season but when he did play he was impactful, his goals in the playoffs were priceless.
 
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Average Rating: 7.17
He proved himself to be a solid and dependable option in the central defence. I sense he will be out of his depth in the DBP but unless I find someone much better I think he could be a useful squad player.
 
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Finances - We simply have no money to spend. I’m hoping that our season in the DBP will help our bank balance but I don’t feel it will be a game changer. I take huge encouragement from Portadown, if they can get into Europe and they are of a similar level to us then maybe with some outrageous luck we might be able to qualify for Europe at some point too.

The next major development step is getting to professional status but I can see that being a long way off. We can’t offer part-time contracts which mean we can’t raise money from developing players and selling them. That is a huge blow to us as that aside from prize money in Europe is the only way to really make money in N. Ireland, not having such a huge potential income generator until professional status is going to make this very tough for us. I sense we are likely to be scrapping at the bottom of the DBP for a while until this situation changes.

Facilities - Until we get a decent balance I can’t see how we even begin to invest in junior coaching let alone anything else. I did ask the board for improvements to junior coaching but they rejected it citing financial reasons.

Youth Intake Part 1 Youth Intake Part 2 - A reasonable intake but I don’t feel any of these players are going to be helpful to us in our quest to stay in the DBP. As we can’t really sign contracted players I think the youth department is going to become critical for us to provide players. I got my assistant manager to recommend who to sign this time. It is considered a ‘golden generation’ but I take that with a pinch of salt.
 
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League Reputation - It’s a great thing to see the DBP reach 1.5*, better still as I haven’t had to do anything to make it happen. Progress is slow but steady which is all that we really need for now. We are on the cusp of the top 100, hopefully, the other N. Irish teams can perform well in Europe and get us there.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - Our reputation is pretty lousy; we are likely to be one of the least recognized teams to ever play in the DBP. I feel I’m going to really struggle to attract many players to improve the first team based on that. We managed to get a slight increase to our reputation but I can understand why given our season wasn’t all that impressive when you look at it in totality. We didn’t do much in the cups and only narrowly scraped 3rd; our points total wouldn’t have been enough to do that in any of the previous seasons of the Championship except the shortened 1st season of the save. We really got lucky this season, no doubt about it.

Club European Reputation - We don’t register on this list and probably wont for a while. I’ll start reporting how the other N. Irish teams performed in Europe now.

Linfield – Finished 4th in Europa Conference League group – An excellent season for them. As long as the team that competes in the Champions League qualifiers wins at least the 1st round they have a reasonable chance of group stage football. They only won 2 qualifying ties and made it all the way to the Europa Conference League group stage. I think they are the only reason why the DBP is making good progress.

Glentoran – Lost 7-1 on aggregate to FC Basel in Europa Conference League 3rd Qualifying Round – A humbling defeat for them but they won 2 qualifying ties much like Linfield. I guess this best exemplifies why getting into the Champions League qualifiers makes such a difference in terms of how far you can progress.

Larne – Lost 4-0 on aggregate to CFR Cluj in Europa Conference League 2nd Qualifying Round – They won a tie against Estonian opposition in the 1st Qualifying Round but were comprehensively beaten in the next round by the Romanian team.

Crusaders – Lost 4-1 on aggregate to Shkendija in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – They ended the 1st leg with a 1-1 draw at home which should have given them some encouragement but then proceeded to get beaten 3-0 in North Macedonia to put them out.
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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2025 / 2026

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We are seen by the media as heavy favourites for finishing rock bottom of the table and getting relegated straight back down. I think that’s pretty fair given we were very fortunate to get promoted last season and our squad is nowhere near DBP standard. We have to hold onto the hope that there is at least one team which is going to have a worse season than us. I’m targeting an 11th placed finish, if we can do better and avoid the playoff altogether I’d be delighted. Realistically though, getting to the playoff should be the aim and then trying to win it to stay up.

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League Table - This was tough!! One of the toughest seasons I think I’ve ever had. We had a brutal start to the season facing all the 3 professional teams away from home in the first 4 games. We had to wait until Matchday 7 for our first win after losing all the games up to that point, a thrilling 4-3 win away to Warrenpoint Town giving us our first points of the season. We drew the next 2, lost the 2 games after that then managed what proved a critical 3 points at home to Newry City with a 3-2 win. After that win we elevated to 10th which had me thinking we might have a chance of avoiding the relegation scrap altogether.

I was quickly sent crashing back to earth with a miserable November. We lost all 4 games, scoring 2 goals and conceding 15 putting us 12th once again. December was going to be pivotal in determining our fate and thankfully we were much better. We only won 1 game, a surprisingly comfortable 3-0 win at home over Ballymena United but we drew 3 games, losing only 2 games. Critically we drew one of those games against Crusaders who were surprisingly in the relegation scrap with us. I was frustrated with the result as were 2-0 up but some shoddy defending allowed them to level the score. We ended the month in 11th and on target.

I went into the New Year thinking that with some strengthening of the squad we could look forward to a fresh start and an improvement of our form. How wrong can you be? We proceeded to win only 1 game in 3 months. It was an important game, a narrow 1-0 win at home to Crusaders but we went into the split bottom of the table. At that point, I was shocked that with such appalling form we were still in touch with Crusaders and had a chance at the playoff. They had a truly shocking season.

We started the split poorly with a 4-3 loss away at Warrenpoint Town with them getting revenge for earlier in the season. We then drew with Crusaders at home 1-1 but went on to lose 4-0 away to Cliftonville. After that result, I thought we were finished but my players didn’t give up. Remarkably, we were still only 1 point behind Crusaders in 11th going into the final two games. Then out of nowhere my players found some form winning at home to Dungannon Swifts 2-0 while Crusaders lost a thriller 4-3 away at Newry City to give us a 2 point lead going into the final game and more importantly putting our destiny in our own hands.

We were to face Newry City at home while Crusaders had the North Belfast derby away at Cliftonville. I have to say that my players were brilliant, we went 2-0 up within the first 16 minutes which completely killed off any chance that we wouldn’t finish 11th. We ended up winning 3-0 which had me wondering why we couldn’t put more performances like that in during the season but I was very pleased to at least avoid getting relegated automatically. In the end, we didn’t even need to win as Crusaders also lost which gave us a 5 point lead over them.

Elsewhere in the DBP, Larne beat Ballymena United in the Europa Conference League playoff final 1-0 while next season will see Portadown join the top flight after winning the Championship title easily. To improve next season we need to stop conceding so many goals, 85 goals are 10 more than anyone else. We could somewhat deal with that if we scored more goals but we were 2nd to last on that metric also. I need to identify the causes for our poor defensive record and look to fix it. It took a disastrous season from Crusaders to keep us off the foot of the table this time; I don’t feel that will happen next season so we are going to need to be better.

Danske Bank Premier / Lough41 Championship Playoff - After the shocking 1st leg away I was totally deflated. I genuinely thought we were down; we didn’t look up for the game and the performance was pitiful. We only managed to get a meager 0.29 on the xG statistic and allowed them to completely dominate the game. Going into the 2nd leg, I just had to hope that with home backing we might be able to pull off a miracle recovery.

Unfortunately, my players still couldn’t get themselves up to perform. We were 56 minutes into the game and my players just looked hopeless. Where was a goal going to come from? Carrick Rangers looked comfortable and we had hardly threatened their goal. Then something happened which completely changed the game and more than likely the trajectory of the career. A soft 2nd yellow card for one of their youngsters put them down to 10 men. From that point forward I just threw men forward and attacked them. Even still they were holding firm but thankfully a ball over the top landed at Byrne’s feet and he had the composure to slot the ball home from a difficult angle past the goalkeeper to half the deficit.

I then proceeded to throw the kitchen sink at them as we peppered their goal. It wasn’t working however and it looked like they were going to keep us from leveling the tie. At times like that you need someone to step up and be the hero and ours came in the form of Hassin MC. The game is deep into stoppage time and we have a throw in on the right hand side in line with the edge of their penalty area. Fogarty DR throws it into Kelly MR who is positioned just inside the penalty area. Surrounded by 2 defenders he somehow manages to pick out a pass to a completely unmarked Hassin on the edge of the area. He then pings a beauty with his left foot into the top left hand corner to rescue us and take the tie into extra time.

We look exhausted but so do Carrick Rangers going into extra time. I feel we need to win the tie in the next 30 minutes as I really didn’t want the lottery of penalties. Thankfully for us, Anderson ST pops up with a goal in the 100th minute to which they can’t respond to keep us up in the DBP. What a nerve shredding end to the season which I’ll be desperate to avoid repeating next time.

Domestic Cups - Wow, what a remarkable season in the Irish Cup. This was a really refreshing break from the relegation battle in the league. I think the ability to play games with a lack of pressure really inspired us and we earned a lot of money on the way to the final. Ultimately, we couldn’t perform a miracle like Portadown did last season but we certainly didn’t disgrace ourselves. Especially when you consider the fact that the final was sandwiched in between the two legs of the DBP relegation playoff.

The game was in the balance up until the 85th minute with them being only 1-0 up. I didn’t want any regrets so for the final 5 minutes I went for it, unfortunately, it didn’t work and instead of us grabbing an equalizer they went on to score twice by hitting us on the counter, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’m delighted with my players though, this was a real inspirational run for the club. We couldn’t give it the fairy tale ending we wanted but they can be happy with their performances in the competition. The League Cup and County Antrim Shield runs weren’t bad (we won some games) but as soon as we encountered Glentoran I knew we was getting knocked out. Still, the furthest we’ve been in both competitions so there’s that to be pleased about.

Reserves - At least they didn’t finish bottom although they didn’t exactly pull up any trees in the cups, getting knocked out in the first round of entry in both. We just don’t have any quality in that team unfortunately so I wouldn’t expect much better next season to be honest.

Under 18s - Their first season of competitive matches just showed the massive chasm that exists between our youth department and that of the established DBP sides. They didn’t finish bottom which is encouraging I suppose but we have a long way to go before we start producing quality players though our academy.

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Squad - Where we finished in the league is a fair reflection of the quality we have in our squad. We have 5 decent players for the DBP on our books but the rest are Championship quality. We don’t have any players which my coaches think are good for the DBP and that is the key to making progress. We need to identify good quality DBP players and bring them into the club otherwise next season is going to be a long hard struggle too.

I’d like to broaden my horizons in terms of bringing in players and the Republic of Ireland has been a good place to look with me finding some quality there on loan. Ultimately though, England and Scotland are where all the talent lies. Unfortunately, only being able to offer non-contracts is really hampering our efforts.

I felt that our defensive line was the strongest area of the team so I was therefore rather surprised with how poor we were defensively. I sense the problem actually has nothing to do with our defensive line at all and everything to do with the central midfield. Our central midfielders have poor defensive attributes; they just aren’t good at that area of the game. Given the 4-4-2 system I’m using, having control of the central midfield is critical. I often found us gifting the opposition possession a lot of the time and then seemingly being incapable of winning it back. That has to stop, we need more rounded players who are more comfortable with both aspects of the game, defending and attacking so that my back line doesn’t get exposed so easily.

I’d like to try and reduce my reliance on loans next season as it was frustrating being at the whim of the parent clubs manager. I’ve had a number of complaints about playing time and loans cancelled far too many times to see that as a long term strategy for the club. It’s not sustainable, especially when the players aren’t massive improvements on what we already have. I’d like to move us toward a selling club model but until I can do that I think we need to focus on being a developing club. I would like to be the place where high potential young players get a 2nd chance at a career. Sprinkle in some quality experienced players and we might have a recipe for success.

Transfers Part 1 / Transfers Part 2 - I brought in a lot of players which overall have improved the ability of the squad but clearly I need better when you look at the results of the season. The problem with loaning players from the Republic of Ireland is that their player contracts end in December. Thankfully, I was able to get Krajnovic DC back on a free after his loan ended and he was released but I really can’t afford to run that gauntlet every season.

I was gutted to lose some of the players I did because of the non-contract situation. Scott MC, Rolleston MC, Martin MC, Roney DC and Wakefield ST were all big losses to the squad which I found difficult to replace. In fact, I don’t think I was able to replace the players lost in the central midfield at all which probably explains why we were so weak in that area. Worse still, the fact that I lost three of those players to teams in lower divisions showing just how poor our reputation is compared to other teams in N. Ireland. Winning the Irish Cup would have done wonders for us in that respect but we didn’t so we have to brace ourselves for more of this type of poaching. These players must really lack ambition, to choose to play in a lower division when you don’t need to shows real weakness on their behalf.

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Average Rating: 6.97
You may be shocked at how he can even be considered for this accolade given that he conceded 83 goals in 42 games but hear me out. Yes, his distribution at times was shocking, yes, he often fumbled in the box and punched the ball into poor areas, yes, he even let shots fired right at him bounce into the net. That is all very true but he also saved an awful lot of goals too. When you are facing on average 7 shots every game and saving 71% of them that makes a huge difference to your team especially one in a relegation battle. Without that contribution there is no way we could have stayed up which was the ultimate aim of the season. He helped us greatly to achieve that so he gets player of the season.
 
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Average Rating: 7.19
For some bizarre reason it’s only showing his stats for when he returned to the club on a free but when the whole season is a taken into consideration his average rating is 7.19 not 7.32 as shown on the screenshot. He was solid, perhaps he didn’t perform as well as he could have given the lack of screen from the central midfield but I think he has a bright future with the club. He seems to have a lot of untapped potential which hopefully I can bring out of him.
 
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Finances - A much improved financial situation which has given a substantial increase to the wage budget. It has meant that I have been able for the first time to start investing into improving the club off the field. I will try and utilize the wage budget to the best effect possible but I know that the real improvements to the squad will only come with professional status. I asked for professional status but was told that the board are satisfied with our position in the football pyramid and that they wanted to stabilize first before taking that step. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that without being able to contract players to the club we aren’t going to be able to stabilize in the DBP anyway.

Facilities - We made great strides here which should really help in the development of our players. The first important move was to sign an affiliation to share training facilities with Annagh United. Ideally, I would have wanted Queens University but I think reputation wise there was no chance of doing that. I guess some improvement is better than nothing. I also improved the junior coaching twice and got the board to improve youth recruitment which is a great step forward. This new board seem much more open to youth development which is just fine by me.

Youth Intake Part 1 Youth Intake Part 2 - An excellent intake in the eyes of my coaches but I’m not as convinced. A lot of potential is there but we are poorly positioned to develop the players enough to achieve it. Some of the intake has some pretty standout attributes. For e.g. Douglas ST has 15 finishing, 15 heading and 12 natural fitness but everything else is 10 or below with the majority of his attributes below 5. These players are very raw and are far from being rounded footballers; they are going to need a lot of work.   
 
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League Reputation - We are in the top 100 and went up 12 places in the ranking which is more places than any other top division in Europe which is a great sign of progress. This development is really helping to increase the money available to clubs in N. Ireland. For this season, our 11th placed finish got us £100k in prize money, for next season if we finish 11th we will get £132k in prize money. Things are definitely headed in the right direction. Having said that 2* reputation starts at 80th and above so we have a long way to go. I’m hoping that Linfield have another good run to a group stage in Europe next season which should help us continue the current trajectory. If we can do that, then give it a couple more seasons and we should be knocking on the door of the top 80.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - We are still a Championship level team in terms of reputation. Our reputation is increasing but the reputation of N. Irish football is increasing much faster so we are actually falling back. That is why winning the Irish Cup would have been so helpful.   
 
Club European Reputation - Listed below is how the other N. Irish teams performed this season.

Larne – Lost 1-0 on aggregate to HJK in Europa Conference League 3rd Qualifying Round – Given they were supposed to represent the best of N. Ireland they did a poor job. Perhaps they were unlucky to draw Malmo in the 1st Qualifying Round of the Champions League as they were too strong. Getting booted down to the Europa Conference League qualifiers so early made it nigh on impossible for them to get to the group stages.

Linfield – Lost 4-2 on aggregate to AIK in Europa Conference League 3rd Qualifying Round – They did well to get through 2 rounds but their Swedish opponents were too strong. I really hope they can repeat what they did last season as that would be exceptionally helpful for the coefficient.

Glenavon – Lost 4-2 on aggregate to Sligo Rovers in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – In an all Irish affair, I think it’s clear to see which league is the better standard at the moment. The fact that Sligo Rovers are a professional club whereas Glenavon aren’t probably didn’t help much either.  

Portadown – Lost 5-0 on aggregate to Neftci in Europa Conference League 2nd Qualifying Round – After losing the 1st leg at home 3-0, I’m sure they relished the trip all the way to Azerbaijan for the 2nd leg. I suspect this would be the outcome but they likely made a bit of money out of it so they can’t be too disappointed.

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38 minutes ago, paulmctevez said:

Out of curiosity, who are the managers of the teams in the Danske Bank Premiership?

Here are the list of managers for the coming season (2026/2027) in the DBP.

Ballymena United - Chris Atkinson - Left being a Reserves manager with Glenavon to take the job in January 2024.

Cliftonville - Tom Pollock - Started his managerial career in May 2026, doesn't look to have ever been a player.

Coleraine - Jeff Harvey - Another guy who has never been a manager nor a player before landing the job in June 2025.

Dungannon Swifts - Anthony Gorman - Got promoted from the assistant manager role in July 2023, former player and experienced manager.

Glenavon - Gary Hamilton - Been the manager since December 2011.

Glentoran - Mick McDermott - Been the manager since March 2019.

Larne - Tiernan Lynch - Been the manager since April 2017.

Linfield - Oran Kearney - Been the manager since January 2025 after Kevin Horlock left the job to manage Wycombe Wanderers.

Newry City - Colin McIlwrath - Left as manager of Knockbreda in June 2023 to manage them.

Portadown - Thangallage Mohamed Nifal - Another one of those strange ones where he has never been involved in football at all before landing the job in October 2024.

Warrenpoint Town - Sam McFadden - Left the assistant managers job at Ards in March 2022 to become their manager.

That's all of them, 3 very odd ones, especially Cliftonville and Coleraine who are amongst the better reputed teams in the country. Seems strange they would take such a gamble when there are plenty of more suitable options available. Outside of that, no real surprises or big names.

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2 minutes ago, pheelf said:

Here are the list of managers for the coming season (2026/2027) in the DBP.

Ballymena United - Chris Atkinson - Left being a Reserves manager with Glenavon to take the job in January 2024.

Cliftonville - Tom Pollock - Started his managerial career in May 2026, doesn't look to have ever been a player.

Coleraine - Jeff Harvey - Another guy who has never been a manager nor a player before landing the job in June 2025.

Dungannon Swifts - Anthony Gorman - Got promoted from the assistant manager role in July 2023, former player and experienced manager.

Glenavon - Gary Hamilton - Been the manager since December 2011.

Glentoran - Mick McDermott - Been the manager since March 2019.

Larne - Tiernan Lynch - Been the manager since April 2017.

Linfield - Oran Kearney - Been the manager since January 2025 after Kevin Horlock left the job to manage Wycombe Wanderers.

Newry City - Colin McIlwrath - Left as manager of Knockbreda in June 2023 to manage them.

Portadown - Thangallage Mohamed Nifal - Another one of those strange ones where he has never been involved in football at all before landing the job in October 2024.

Warrenpoint Town - Sam McFadden - Left the assistant managers job at Ards in March 2022 to become their manager.

That's all of them, 3 very odd ones, especially Cliftonville and Coleraine who are amongst the better reputed teams in the country. Seems strange they would take such a gamble when there are plenty of more suitable options available. Outside of that, no real surprises or big names.

Great stuff, i am wondering if both Tom and Jeff are regens with good CA/PA

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15 minutes ago, paulmctevez said:

Great stuff, i am wondering if both Tom and Jeff are regens with good CA/PA

Here are the manager profiles

Tom Pollock

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Jeff Harvey

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Thangallage Mohamed Nifal

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They don't look all that impressive to my eyes when compared to some of the other managers out there. Then again, to give Thangallage his dues, he did win the Irish Cup with a team playing in the 2nd division and just stormed his team Portadown to the Championship title. I'm wondering how much of that is due to his preferred tactical style however...hmm...I hope that gegenpress isn't going to be OP again.

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23 minutes ago, pheelf said:

Here are the manager profiles

Tom Pollock

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Jeff Harvey

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Thangallage Mohamed Nifal

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They don't look all that impressive to my eyes when compared to some of the other managers out there. Then again, to give Thangallage his dues, he did win the Irish Cup with a team playing in the 2nd division and just stormed his team Portadown to the Championship title. I'm wondering how much of that is due to his preferred tactical style however...hmm...I hope that gegenpress isn't going to be OP again.

Interesting - thanks for sharing

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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2026 / 2027

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The players and board seem rather pessimistic going into the season and think the best we can hope for is to fight to finish 11th and in the relegation playoff position. I’m of a similar mindset, I think that staying up is going to be critical but as we have a bit of money to spend, I’m hoping that I can strengthen the team enough to finish a bit higher and avoid being in a relegation battle altogether.

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League Table - We were the draw specialists this season, finishing miles ahead of everyone in terms of games drawn. I suppose that I’m not all that disappointed by that as I’d prefer to be getting some points from games through draws rather than losing those games. The problem which plagued us this season is that all those dropped points really hampered our ability to make significant progress. If we could have just managed another win pre-split we would have made it into the top 6. Had we managed to turn one of the draws into a win in the post-split period we would have finished 7th and had a shot at qualifying for the Europa Conference League through the playoff.

The run of 8 draws from the start of March to the penultimate Matchday really cost us badly; we didn’t win a single league game in 2027 except a final day 1-0 win over Coleraine which was shocking. I think I understand the reason why our form collapsed so badly. Having non-contracts meant we lost a lot of our best players for nothing in January which severely weakened the first team squad. Elsewhere in the DBP, Larne beat Cliftonville 1-0 in the Europa Conference League playoff. Coleraine beat Carrick Rangers 2-1 on aggregate in the relegation playoff while next season will see Crusaders bounce straight back by winning promotion from the Championship.

Domestic Cups - After last seasons impressive run to the Irish Cup final, this was a massive let down to lose in the 1st round of entry. We weren’t great in the other cups either; we are going to have to do a lot better. Making progress in the cups bring with it a great source of potential income and we need every penny we can get on our quest to become a professional club.

Reserves - They were a lot better than last season. I think the amount of players we brought into the squad definitely helped and I found that the Reserve league was incredibly useful in developing players. Some players developed so well that I brought them into the first team where they had a positive impact.

Under 18s - The youth team was another squad which showed a dramatic improvement. I will continue to invest in the youth department as we can already see it is beginning to pay dividends. I’m hoping that some of these high potential youngsters can ascend through the ranks and make it to the first team. Whether that will happen or not however is dependent upon them and how much they develop as players.

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Squad - The first team is a lot stronger than last season which is a sign of progress. Unfortunately for us, it was even stronger before the January transfer window. Our inability to tie players down with contracts effectively ruined our season. It was gutting to develop young players released from clubs in England only to have them taken from us without any form of compensation for our efforts. That will not be changing until we reach professional status so we need to build up the cash and keep pestering the board to become a full time club.

I was pleased that I largely eliminated the clubs dependence on loans with us only bringing in McGreevyDC from Hearts who was too good to turn down and Downey DL from Glentoran as all of our best left backs got poached and I needed cover for Verdi. There is a lot of talent in the squad and hopefully next season I can repeat the same trick of signing high potential players on pre-contract agreements, developing them with first team football and moving up the table. 

Transfers Part 1 / Transfers Part 2 - As can be seen I basically raided the released players from English clubs. That proved to be an exceptionally useful ploy and our best players came from that source. We lost 6 players on January deadline day which we could do nothing about. Perplexingly, we also seem to still be losing players to teams in lower divisions showing just how low our reputation is. I expect similar levels of activity next season as I don’t feel we have a choice given that we are likely to lose even more players for free.

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Average Rating: 7.30
This was another excellent season from the young Serbian defender. His attributes aren’t all that impressive but he seems to make it work and made us stronger defensively. He contributed to our run of 9 games without loss which is more than double that of Glentoran who could only manage a run of 4. He has a lot potential, whether I can get that out of him given his unambitious personality is another question however.
 
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Average Rating: 7.17
Brought in on loan from Hearts he had an excellent season. As his contract expires at the end of the season with his parent club I’m hoping that I can sign him on a non-contract basis.
 
 
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Finances - Money is ticking up nicely but not at a rate for the board to consider professional status. I can do no more than continue to put forward requests to the board to turn full time. This is the last major obstacle we have to overcome in terms of establishing ourselves in the top flight. I'm a little concerned that our average attendances have been declining but perhaps that is a consequence of the increased ticket prices.

Facilities - This season saw massive investment into the youth department with both the junior coaching budget increased and improvements made to the youth recruitment network. It required me being forceful with the board to overcome their reluctance but in the long run the board will discover it was a good decision. I also had to convince them to relay the pitch as it was in a terrible state.

Youth Intake Part 1 Youth Intake Part 2 - On the face of it, there doesn’t appear to be much in terms of improvement but considering that the standard of the first team has gone up then relatively this was a good intake. I’m thinking that perhaps I should loan out some of the better players who are over 17 to lower league clubs rather than keeping them in the youth squad. I sense that having them play at a higher level will assist in their development more than playing 22 games a season against other youth teams. I may look to sign an affiliation to assist with this although given our reputation this may prove difficult.
 
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League Reputation - Up to 90th which is good although it appears that the goalposts have shifted in terms of getting to 2* reputation. Now you have to reach 78th place to get 2* reputation. I’m also somewhat concerned that the rate of progress up the table has slowed dramatically. We are going to need to see a far stronger showing from the N. Irish clubs in Europe next season or we might start to stagnate. At least all but one of the representatives from N. Ireland will be full time clubs next season which gives us the best chance of seeing progress.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - Our reputation is still so poor when compared with other clubs within the DBP. That is seriously damaging our ability to bring in the stronger players we need to start really pushing up the table.
 
Club European Reputation - Listed below is how the other N. Irish teams performed this season.

Linfield – Lost 2-0 on aggregate to Domzale in Europa Conference League 2nd Qualifying Round – I’m beginning to think that run to the group stage of the Conference League was a complete fluke. They have been awful in Europe since then.

Glentoran – Lost 3-2 on aggregate to Bravo in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – Pretty lousy to be honest, yes, it was only a narrow defeat but they should be doing a lot better.

Glenavon – Lost 5-1 on aggregate to Petrocub Hincesti in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – A rather embarrassing result against their Moldovan opponents who only have 3 non-grey players in their squad.

Larne – Lost 5-0 on aggregate to Ordabasy in Europa Conference League 2nd Qualifying Round – They managed to get past Valetta comfortably winning 5-0 on aggregate but then took an absolute hammering against their Kazakh opponents.

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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2027 / 2028

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It looks like another season of struggle for the club based on the board expectations. They would be happy with an 11th placed finish and given the quality of the squad I’m inclined to agree. The only way I can see us improving is if I can bring in some stronger players to replace what we lost and find a way to improve our consistency.

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League Table - A slight decline in our finishing position but at least we won more games, we did however lose more games. We started the season poorly and before February 2028 we looked in serious trouble with us in 11th position and only off the bottom of the table on goal difference ahead of Coleraine. Winning only 3 games out of 28 from the start of the season was disastrous form and we desperately needed to improve.

Then almost akin to flicking on a switch our form changed dramatically. We had a perfect February, winning all 4 games 1-0 pushing us up to 10th and giving us a nice cushion over the bottom 2 clubs. We then drew the next game 1-1 away at Dungannon Swifts to take us into the split relatively safe from relegation but in touch with the teams up to 8th. We lost the opening game of the split 2-1 away at Newry City to end our chances of 7th and the Europa Conference League playoff. We then drew 0-0 with Warrenpoint which ensured another season in the top flight. We followed that with 3 wins to end the season which was very positive and pushed us up to 9th.

Elsewhere in the DBP, Dungannon Swifts beat Cliftonville 3-0 in the Europa Conference League playoff final. Warrenpoint Town beat Ballyclare Comrades 3-1 on aggregate in the relegation playoff while next season will see Portadown back in the top flight after they won the Championship title.

Domestic Cups - Another poor season in the cups, we looked good in the Country Antrim Shield after beating Linfield on penalties in the quarter final. Unfortunately, we then proceeded to bottle our best chance yet of getting to the final with a poor performance away at Championship side Knockbreda. That was disappointing but I think the low point was the loss on penalties in the Irish Cup away at Bangor who are a Championship team.

Reserves - A very good season from them, they maintained their place in the league and made good progress in the cup competitions. Even though their ranks had been increased with players I think a lot of the good performance this season comes down to the first team players getting game time while seeking fitness.

Under 18s - I’m rather surprised to see just how poorly they performed this season considering how much investment has been made into the youth department. Perhaps a lot of it is down to some of our better youth players graduating to the Reserve team but even still there was the next intake coming through and they didn’t improve the performance which is a little worrying.

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Squad - Our poor start to the season was largely down to our weakness in the centre of the park. Once I addressed that with the acquisition of a couple of central midfielders in January that really did help to solidify us and helped us to start winning games and moving up the table. The balance of the squad seems to be decent and I’m pleased that I’ve gradually managed to reduce the average age.

I also started to be a bit more hands on with my approach to developing players during the season. I done this by assigning mentoring groups, creating tailor made individual training and getting players to learn what I felt would be beneficial PPMs. For e.g. getting my left full backs to learn to get forward whenever possible. I’ve also tried to improve my man management by ensuring that players are getting appropriate game time and if I’m unable to give them the agreed playing time I’ve been more willing to reduce their squad status. I found that approach to be much better at retaining harmony in the squad while also improving performances on the pitch.

Transfers - Once again I went shopping in the free transfer market in England and I was able to bring in some quality which really helped improved the squad. The signings of the season were Peate DC, Lynch ML, Ashworth DL and Davis ST who all contributed well. Bringing in Steele MC and Roberts MC were critical in the central midfield and there was a massive upturn in our form once they signed.

I was however gutted to lose so many players on a free that were performing well. I really can’t wait until we can offer proper contracts as this ability to only offer non-contracts is really hampering us.

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Average Rating: 7.08
An excellent goalkeeper who statistics tell me has vastly over performed the DBP average in all key areas. He kept 13 clean sheets which is quite impressive for a team that finished in 9th. I would like to keep him but given how easily other teams can take our best players I’m not optimistic about holding onto him should a bigger team make an offer.
 
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Average Rating: 7.24
I was delighted to be able to sign him after his loan last season. He performed even better this season with a higher average rating and showed good development. I’m a little bit concerned about his unambitious personality and I’ll be hoping to use mentoring to remove that. He is however a fan favourite and incredibly consistent, he is a player I would be gutted to lose.
 
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Finances - We just aren’t making enough money to really give the board anything to consider when it comes to becoming a full time club. We really need to qualify for some sort of European competition to accelerate the rate of progress as otherwise I can see it being a long arduous grind of building the balance little by little. There are some encouraging signs however. Average attendances are up and that’s with increased ticket prices, we now have the most expensive season tickets in the country. We also saw a slight increase to our sponsorship income which is good also.  

Facilities - With some arm twisting of the board, I was able to continue the investment into the youth department and looking at the youth intake it appears to be paying dividends. If we can’t buy players then developing our own is a sound alternative until such a time we can. The pitch got relaid automatically which is excellent.

Youth Intake Part 1 Youth Intake Part 2 - A brilliant intake which my coaches feel could be a golden generation. Ward ST the pick of the bunch at 15 years old looks good enough to play in the first team already which shows just how good our intakes have become. I don’t only look at the star ratings to judge how good a player is but even when I look at the attributes I have to say that we have a special group of players coming through the ranks. Ward for example has 14 dribbling and 15 finishing so is perfect for the Advanced Forward role in my 4-4-2. I think the improvement of the youth department may have brought a new problem as now I’m getting offers for our better youth players. I would consider accepting no money were it not for the fact that I can’t seem to add any clauses.    
 
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League Reputation - The DBP is still on the rise and now on the cusp of becoming a 2* league. I hope that we can reach that significant milestone next season.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - Finally, we start to see an improvement in our domestic reputation and have risen to 1*. Unfortunately, we are still only recognized on a regional basis and still have the lowest reputation in the DBP but we are making progress.
 
Club European Reputation - Listed below is how the other N. Irish teams performed this season.

Glentoran – Lost 4-3 on aggregate to Shkendija in Europa Conference League 4th Qualifying Round – They came so close to the group stage but ultimately the 3-0 loss in the first leg away in North Macedonia gave them a mountain to climb which they couldn’t quite manage. They can however be happy with a very creditable run through the qualifiers.

Linfield – Lost 4-2 on aggregate to Kisvarda in Europa Conference League 2nd Qualifying Round – A poor result against their Hungarian opponents.

Glenavon – Lost 3-2 on aggregate to Breioablik in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – They did quite well to compete so well with a professional Icelandic club who had a full squad of players in their first team.

Larne – Lost 4-1 on aggregate to Tabor Sezana in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – An awful pair of performances and a deserved loss.

 

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I have an important decision to make. The season ended and the Linfield manager Danny Lennon got the boot after bottling the title with a final day loss at home to Glentoran. I then applied for the job and got offered an interview.

A few days later and I got the following message in my inbox.

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I've delayed the decision for a week which they have agreed to but I'm still wondering what I should do.

You would think it's a no brainer that I should leave in order to best progress the ultimate aim of the save but I still feel I have unfinished business with Donegal Celtic. 

They are nowhere near being an established DBP team which I would have liked to leave as my legacy to them. I'm also reluctant to leave as for the first time I'm actually seeing some signs of growth. There are a lot of high potential youngsters coming through the ranks who I'd like to develop and see how far I could take them. If I left I would also immediately be under much more pressure as my new board at Linfield are understandably much more demanding. 

On the other hand, Donegal Celtic are nowhere near becoming a professional club, I still can't offer anything other than non-contracts meaning I can lose any player at any time. Also I'm looking at the transfer budget and wage budget on offer and salivating as to what sort of team I could build with Linfield. Not only that but I could become a parent club for the other DBP teams and bring quality players into N. Ireland. I also think that managing the biggest club in the country would give me the opportunity to lead the way and actively contribute in a massive way to the development of the nation.

I definitely need think about this one, any guidance would be welcome!

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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2028 / 2029

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After much consideration, I decided to turn down the Linfield job and tough it out with Donegal Celtic. I know that going there would have meant instant success but I think I'm on the cusp of a breakthrough with this club. The aspect which swayed me into staying was the thought that all the hard work I've put into the club would immediately go to waste given they aren't yet established in the top flight. I think this club has a bright future ahead of it and I want to be here to experience it. As usual, the board would be happy as long as we avoid relegation. If we could only manage that then I would be very disappointed and would feel like I wasted a big opportunity by staying, thankfully, I think we should be capable of far better than that and a mid table finish shouldn't be beyond us. 

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League Table - A massive improvement from last season with us for the first time breaking into the top 6. Our final league position I think was very fair as we were in around mid-table for the entire season. We managed to break a few records this season, finishing in our highest position ever while also fielding the youngest goalscorer ever in Rooney ST who netted at the tender age of 15 years and 243 days against Crusaders. We also for the first time scored over 40 goals in a season which was pleasing to see. Best of all, our 6th placed finish gave us a potential path into Europe next season if we could win a couple of games in the playoffs. Elsewhere in the DBP, Coleraine bounced straight back to the top flight after a convincing win of the Championship but Ballinamallard United couldn't join them losing 4-2 on aggregate to Warrenpoint Town in the relegation playoff.

Danske Bank Premier UEFA Europa Conference League Playoff - I'm absolutely delighted to be the manager who will take the club into Europe for the first time. The semi-final was a real nerve shredding game which took me through so many different emotions it was incredible. It started atrociously with our star central defender Peate having to come off through injury after only 2 minutes which had me worried that our defence would suffer. That didn't seem to upset the players on the pitch however as they raced into 3-0 lead after 60 minutes. At that point, I was basically chilling and thinking that getting to the final was going to be easy work so I decided to make some subs to rest players for the final. They then got a goal back in the 67th minute and proceeded to put our goal under siege. They then got another goal back in the 71st minute and then bagged the equalizer in the 81st minute to leave me bereft and thinking we had thrown it all away. Then the 86th minute rolls around and we get a penalty, a golden opportunity to win the game again. The usually reliable Leahy DL steps up and has his penalty saved, at that point I think it's not going to be our day. We go into extra time and the game is on a knife edge, both teams look tired and at the same time tense and desperate not to take any risks which could lead to conceding chances making for a tetchy game. It goes on that way for the majority of extra time before a hero comes knocking in Rooney ST who with 3 minutes to go of extra time beats the offside trap and calmly slots the ball into the bottom left corner. His first senior goal and what a time to get it, after such an epic result I start to dream that maybe we can actually do it and win the final.

The reality however was that Glenavon was clear favourites to win. They didn't play extra time in their semi-final, we'd lost our best central defender for the game and they finished a full 16 points ahead of us in the league. The omens weren't good, I decided if we went into the game tired we would stand no chance so for the first time in the career I decided to give my players a full 2 days break from training and it seemed to help as we went into the final much fresher. The game started evenly for both teams with each having a fair share of possession and chances. Therefore I was quite disappointed when we went behind in the 33rd minute to a Magennis ST goal as he poached on a rebound off the crossbar from a direct free kick, I wasn't disheartened however and I felt if we could keep the deficit to just 1 until half time we could have a go at them in the 2nd half. Thankfully, we could do better than that and deep into 1st half stoppage time we got a penalty. This time it was taken by Marsh-Hughes ST and he made no mistake to equalize. That changed the dynamic of the half time team talk and my players started the 2nd half much more confidently. We seemed to assert more control over the game but even still we hadn't taken the lead. Therefore on the 60th minute I decided to roll the dice and take off our top scorer Anderson ST and bring on young starlet Ward ST. Almost immediately it paid off, he latched onto a ball over the top and slotted it past the goalkeeper to put us 2-1 up. I decide to keep playing the same way rather than attempt to go defensive and even with a late barrage from Glenavon we hold on to book our place in the Europa Conference League, a brilliant conclusion to our best ever league campaign.

Domestic Cups - A good season in the cups, I was even thinking that we might be going all the way in the Irish Cup but a poor performance in the quarter final quashed those dreams. The final was interestingly a replay of the final of 4 seasons ago with Portadown playing Linfield, this time however Linfield got revenge winning it 1-0, capping off a miserable season for Portadown who got relegated. We're getting closer to winning something major in N. Ireland, we just need that little bit extra to take us over the line. 

Reserves - I was seriously impressed with the reserve team this season, yes, they finished lower than last season in the league and ultimately didn't win anything but they made it to 2 finals. Those runs brought in a decent amount of cash to help the bank balance along which is always a welcome unexpected boost.

Under 18s - A vast improvement which is always welcome. I think the reason why they weren't able to win the title is because the quality of players coming out of the youth department is almost too good. Some of them are first team quality right off the bat so I pull them out of the Under 18s more or less immediately. Those which aren't quite good enough for the 1st team go into the Reserves therefore only the worst players remain in the youth team which is going to impact performances.

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Squad - I was determined to strengthen the central midfield and I feel I've been very successful in that task. I also for the first time fought to keep some players at the club by offering them more lucrative contracts. I done that with Swift MC who looked to be leaving until I offered him more money and star player squad status. I feel I have a good blend of youth and experience and I'm excited to see what the future holds for some of the clubs best youth players. Now that we have European football on the horizon we are going to need to improve the central defence as that looks an area of weakness. We are also going to need to fight tooth and nail to keep some of our best young prospects. At least, while they are on a youth contract I can refuse offers but I'm already fielding attractive offers for players like Rooney ST. Glentoran are offering some cash but more importantly, a 50% of next sale clause which I happily accepted. As long as we can only offer non-contracts I'm going to have to take this approach or risk losing players for nothing once their youth contracts expire which would be hugely detrimental. I'm aiming to turn us into a selling club as that is how we are going to develop so if I can get the ball rolling now that will helpful. I concede it's a gamble accepting offers for youth players but who knows, maybe he will flourish at a professional club like Glentoran and before you know it be on his way to a better league for good money which we will benefit hugely from.

Transfers - We brought less players into the club but I feel we made better quality signings. I tried to hold on to Ronald MC by offering him a new contract but he wanted to go to Derry City so I couldn't stop it. I am however happy to see more of my players turning down offers from other clubs as it means that our standing within the game is improving. Once again I brought in a lot of players from England and will be looking to do so again as it is such a rich picking ground for players. I'm happy to be the place where these released players get another chance at having a career and now that I'm able to offer European football, I'm hoping that will make us even more attractive to this type of player.

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Average Rating: 7.21
Aside from the missed penalty in the playoff semi final, he didn't put a foot wrong all season. At 31 years old, he isn't going to be the long term solution for that position but he has become a team leader and invaluable member of the squad. Not only that but he is mentoring and with his ambitious personality has been having a positive effect on a lot of the young players in his group. I'd like if possible to get another couple of solid seasons from him as he will be difficult to replace. 
 
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Average Rating: 6.99
There was a lot of interest in him from other clubs but he showed loyalty to us and I couldn't be happier that he did. He has developed well this season and still has plenty of room to get even better. I just need to find a better partner in the central defence for him then maybe we can think about pushing for the top 4 and being the best of the rest behind the 3 professional clubs.
 
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Finances - Our situation is improving dramatically and now our finances are considered secure. I'd like to have a good run in Europe, to push us closer to professional status, if by some miracle we could make it past 4 rounds to the group stages that would guarantee it for next season. Every indicator is moving in the right direction, attendances are up despite rising ticket prices, sponsorship is up, prize money is up and now we are going to start generating money from player sales. Getting to professional status would be such a game changer for us, hopefully, it won't be too long. 

Facilities - I managed to max out the junior coaching which is excellent but I'm yet to convince the board of the need to do the same with the youth recruitment. Looking at our attendances, we actually managed to sell out the stadium 5 times so we are going to need to invest money into expanding the stadium within a few years, nothing however will start until we are a full time club.

Youth Intake Part 1 Youth Intake Part 2 - As you can see, Rooney ST came into the club first team ready. His main position it lists as an AML but I've developing him as a striker. His dribbling is excellent, he's fast, a born leader and intelligent off the ball. The only drawback he has is his low determination but hopefully with mentoring that can be resolved. If not here then maybe at his new club Glentoran. Outside of him, there was still plenty of quality to be had, got a lot of players here that with development should feature in the first team in future.
 
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League Reputation - Still not 2* but getting tantalizingly close to it now. Another bonus is that I can start influencing this next season, hopefully, I can do the nation proud.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - We are at last recognized throughout N. Ireland which is a great improvement.
 
Club European Reputation - As we qualified for Europe for next season I will start putting the screenshot for where we rank. Listed below is how the other N. Irish teams performed this season.

Glentoran – Finished 4th in Europa Conference League group – An excellent campaign for them which has no doubt boosted their finances significantly. It's going to be interesting next season to see how both Linfield and Glentoran use the group stage money they have had in recent seasons. It could start an arms race which could be beneficial in bringing in talent from abroad.

Larne – Lost 4-3 on penalties after a 3-3 draw on aggregate with Dinamo Brest in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – A poor showing from them, they haven't really utilized Kenny Bruce and his millions very well. In fact, looking at the landmarks of the club, he left in 2025 after they won the DBP for the first time.

Linfield – Lost 5-3 on aggregate to Rosenborg in Europa Conference League 3rd Qualifying Round – It was always going to be tough to beat an opponent of that quality but at least they won a couple of ties.

Dungannon Swifts – Lost 6-0 on aggregate to Neftci in Europa Conference League 2nd Qualifying Round – That was a painful one for them, they did get through one round against Differdange which is something to be happy about, I really hope I can do better.

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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2029 / 2030

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I'm not really sure what to expect going into this season. Once again, my board thinks we are likely to be in a relegation battle. I'd like to do a lot better than that and would like to qualify for Europe again as that is the only way we are going to get enough money to achieve our aim of operating as a full time club. I have no real expectations for our campaign in the Europa Conference League, if we could get through a few rounds I'd be happy with that.

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League Table - The first half of the season was really poor which had me concerned that the board's prediction of us being in a relegation scrap was correct. We started decently enough with us hovering around mid table but then we had a real wobble between October and December which only saw us pick up a total of 10 points out of a possible 39 which saw us plummet down the table. Things were so bad that we sat bottom of the table on Matchday 18 and I was really pondering how we were going to get out of the mess. Seeing the predicament we were in, I decided we needed to go big in January to strengthen for what I thought at the time would be a relegation battle. In effect, what happened is those signings completely transformed our season. January marked the start of our season and we managed 16 points out of possible 21 to put us right in the hunt for a top 6 spot. In the end, it was tight but on Matchday 32 we finally squeezed into the top 6, we then lost to Glentoran in the final game before the split but thankfully Glenavon also slipped up to hand us a spot in the top 6 and guaranteed spot in the Europa Conference League playoff. Loughgall won the NIFL Championship and Warrenpoint Town narrowly avoided relegation by winning the relegation playoff on away goals over Portadown after a 4-4 draw on aggregate.

Danske Bank Premier UEFA Europa Conference League Playoff - I'm chuffed to have made it into Europe for a 2nd season in a row. It was never comfortable at any point of the two ties but we did it and can once again dream of the riches that come from playing on the continent.

UEFA Europa Conference League - This went rather better than I had hoped, with us narrowly scraping past the first 2 rounds. When we managed a 0-0 draw in Croatia infront of over 30,000 hostile fans (only 1 of ours bothered to turn up) I was beginning to wonder whether a massive upset was on the cards and if we could reach the 4th Round and play a glamour tie against FC Nantes. Well, we simply didn't turn up for the 2nd leg and they beat us easily to end that dream. The run was very lucrative however and a repeat next season would surely have us knocking on the door of professional status.

Domestic Cups - We were trash in the cups and there is nothing really more to add.

Reserves - Nice to see them bring home a cup, I especially enjoyed the money that came along with it. More of the same next season please.

Under 18s - An improvement on last season which is good, they are already competing with the professional clubs. If we could also allow them to train full time they would surely be challenging for the title every season.

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Squad - The novelty of trying to compete in the top flight while only being able to offer non-contracts has definitely worn thin now. It wouldn't be so bad if I could offer part-time contracts like the other part-time clubs but we can't which is severely impeding our ability to make progress. It's a constant worry as to whether a player is just going to up sticks and leave which means I've lost control of the composition of the squad. It's harming the development of our best young players, in fact, some aren't developing at all like Ward ST. We just need to find a way, even if I have to rely on the loan market like I had to do this season to get enough money together to turn professional. Once we do that then everything changes and I can really begin developing the club. I also need to be mindful that a lot of the older players look to be declining, especially Leahy DL who has fallen off a cliff this season, my hope of getting another couple of seasons out of him may have been overly optimistic.

Transfers - I tried to continue the same approach of signing players on pre-contracts from England but the effectiveness of that is starting to wane. The players we want that would significantly improve the squad aren't happy to sign for a non-contract deal which is hampering my ability to improve the squad. That is why only 2 of the players signed in the summer window really impacted the first team, the rest were bit part players at best. As the squad was significantly weaker as we continued to lose some of our better players I was forced back into the loan market which thankfully rescued our season. This is likely the most challenging situation I've had in the transfer market but I'm determined to overcome it, even if that means loaning in a lot of players.

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Average Rating: 7.25
According to his average rating he was our best player but when I look at the attributes of the player he is not in my view a central defender. His technical attributes are way below what I'd be happy with from someone I expect to be in a back 2 central defence. He isn't all that good to play in either of fullback positions either, I'm baffled how he performed as well as he did.
 
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Average Rating: 7.10
A much improved season from him and a player whose attribute profile much better matches what I'm looking for from a central defender. I don't think McAvoy was the right choice to put alongside him, maybe in a back 3 it might work but I still need to identify someone better as McGreevy while good isn't the solution either.
 
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Finances - This is why I'm beginning to get frustrated with the board. We have no debt, are making excellent profits season upon season and are seeing our income rise. Why then do they keep rejecting my request to turn professional especially with a balance like we have and a secure financial status. That is the only thing which is standing in our way from competing at the top end of N. Irish football. Their reasoning doesn't really make any sense as to why they won't do it. They keep claiming that the club can't afford the costs of operating as a full time club which to some extent is true but they are failing to consider all the potential benefits to income that can arise from operating as a full time club. Being able to train players full time means they will develop better, that will improve performances on the pitch while also ensuring more income from any player sales. Currently our income from player sales is minimal. If we are more competitive on the pitch we are more likely to get into Europe and earn more prize money. The caliber of player who would come to the club would also dramatically improve which would also benefit our performances on the pitch. They need to stop being so risk averse, speculate now to accumulate later, the risk isn't all that high anyway, if we start making huge losses they can simply revert back to being a semi-pro club although I wouldn't be irresponsible to run the finances into the ground like that.

Facilities - Maxed out both junior coaching and youth recruitment which is reflected in the intakes we have been having of late. Nothing else can really start until we are a professional club.

Youth Intake Part 1 Youth Intake Part 2 - More depth and quality coming through the ranks which is great to see. I'm still fielding insulting low offers for players but I think I'll hold off on selling for now, maybe wait until they are 17 years old then move them on.
 
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League Reputation - At last we reach 2* reputation which is great for the development of the nation. The next jump however is a huge one, to get to 2.5* we need to be in 45th place which is a massive chasm to where we are now.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - I think we have probably established ourselves at least in a reputational sense in the DBP but we have a way to go before we are established in a competitive sense.
 
Club European Reputation - I'm a bit confused by this to be honest, we appeared for the first time in Europe and our position in the ranking actually went down 18 places. Now we lie below Distillery which seems quite ridiculous to me seeing as they have all 0.00 over the last 5 seasons and we have 2.00 for this season. Listed below is how the other N. Irish teams performed this season.

Linfield – Lost 4-3 on aggregate to Bohemians in Europa Conference League 3rd Qualifying Round – Not the worst of campaigns from them although perhaps should have pushed the R.O.I. side Bohemians further.

Glentoran – Lost 4-3 on aggregate to Olimpija in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – This was rather a spectacular collapse from them considering they were 3-0 up after the 1st leg at home.

Larne – Lost 9-4 on aggregate to IFK Norrkoping in Europa Conference League 3rd Qualifying Round – They did well to get through a couple of rounds only to take a pounding against Swedish opposition.

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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2030 / 2031

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The board are feeling in a more optimistic mood and have decided that a mid table finish should be on the cards. I feel we should be capable of that but given that we are likely to continue to lose some of our best players we really ought to temper expectations, if we could make the top 6 again that would be a good achievement. As for Europe, I'd like to go as far as we possibly can through the qualifiers but looking at our lowly coefficient and the quality of the other teams we could face I'm not confident. We'd do well to match last seasons performance in my view. 

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League Table - We came tantalizingly close to making the top 6 after a herculean effort but in the end we fell just short. The season started really poorly for us, we managed only 3 wins and 2 draws out of our first 14 games leaving us in 11th. It looked like being another season of struggle but the busy December and January months saw a massive improvement in our form. We managed to win 9 games and drew 1 out of the next 14 games which took us to within striking range of Dungannon Swifts who were occupying 6th. Unfortunately for us, we suffered a damaging defeat at home to Warrenpoint Town which practically ended our chances of making it into the top 6. We did however secure 7th with two games to spare which gave us another chance of qualifying for the Europa Conference League. Elsewhere in the DBP, there was a titanic title battle this season with the destination of the trophy being decided on an exciting final day. Linfield were top with 75 points, Glenavon were in 2nd with 74 points and Larne were in 3rd with 73 points. That meant that either of those clubs could win the title if other results went their way. Linfield slipped up drawing 3-3 away at Cliftonville which opened the door for the other two clubs but unfortunately both couldn't capitalize. Larne lost away at Dungannon Swifts 2-1 and Glenavon lost 2-0 away at Glentoran. It would have been nice to see Glenavon win the title given they are still a part time club like us but even with the disappointment of missing out on the title they still had a exceptionally strong season. Warrenpoint Town survived another season after beating Ballyclare Comrades 5-3 in the relegation playoff while next season will see Coleraine return after they comfortably won the Championship title.

Danske Bank Premier UEFA Europa Conference League Playoff - I'm disappointed to have lost in the semi final but ultimately Larne were deserving winners of the game and also the final. When we scored an equalizer in the 92nd minute to take the game into extra time I thought we had a great chance and the momentum of the game was in our favour. Unfortunately, the mind may have been willing but my players legs were completely gone and we spent extra time just trying to cling on. We got close to taking them to penalties but conceded a sloppy goal (most likely due to tiredness) with 9 minutes to go and we simply couldn't recover. It's not the best outcome given we need to become regular participants in Europe if we are to get the money required to develop the club but maybe missing next season might prove beneficial in our case so we can fully focus on the domestic campaign.

UEFA Europa Conference League - This is why I'm not overly upset about losing the DBP Europa Conference League Playoff. Getting to the group stage is an incredible achievement for the club, the money we got ensured professional status from next season which is going to completely transform this club. We started with an easy draw facing Faroese opposition in the first qualifying round which we won easily although the aggregate scoreline wasn't particularly convincing. Then we drew a nightmare opponent in Dinamo from Croatia. I was gutted with the draw and thinking that we were not going to be able to even match our performance of last season. I then thought about how I was going to overcome such a huge ability gap between the two teams. Thankfully for us, the solution was rather gifted to us from the opposition manager who for some bizarre reason decided to field a box 4-2-2-2 formation in both legs. This played right into my hands with the 4-4-2 and I decided to get my team to focus down the flanks and hope to overload their fullbacks and get crosses into the 2 strikers. It seemed to work a treat and we pulled off an incredible pair of wins to put us into the 3rd qualifying round.

Shahter Qaragandy our opponents in the next round looked decent even though they only had one non grey player but even still, they were a much weaker opponent than Dinamo which gave me hope that we could win. In the end, we managed to eek out a narrow win at home in the first leg which meant I could s***house my way to a win in the tie with a draw away in Kazakhstan. In effect, that is what I did, played defensively and just tried to frustrate and stifle my opponents. It worked to set up a tough looking tie against Danish team Brondby IF. At this point, I was looking to gracefully bow out as they were such a tough opponent but I thought about it and formulated a game plan. I decided to put the mentality down a couple of notches to cautious for both legs. If we stuck with my usual positive mentality, my thoughts were that we would get overrun and likely hammered. Their strikers were quick and our defenders are slow so trying to play a higher line would have been dangerous. I was also setting out a challenge for them to break us down, by pressing less and attempting to hold shape. I was pessimistic about the plan as I thought their quality would be able to break us down eventually but it worked brilliantly, not only did we go to Denmark and come away with an unbelievable win we managed to keep them out at home to put us through to the group stage.

The group stage was basically an exercise in trying not to be embarrassed and in that endeavour, the players did an excellent job. We even came close to getting a point against VVV-Venlo in the final game of the group but unfortunately conceded a late goal to leave us pointless. I am however delighted with the campaign, this was the catalyst we desperately needed and marks the start of our journey to the top of N. Irish football. 

Domestic Cups - Overall we did better in the cups but still aren't consistently making it to the later stages, apart from that freak run to the Irish Cup final in 2025/2026 we haven't been to any other finals. The loss to 3rd division Armagh City in the Irish Cup was humiliating, the players didn't turn up and blew what was one of the easiest draws of the last 16. Especially gutting since Linfield got knocked out at the same stage also. Hopefully, next season will mean we can go deeper in these competitions and finally claim our first piece of significant silverware in N. Ireland.

Reserves - Decent in the league but abysmal in the cups. I'm at a loss to explain why they did so poorly in the cups as there was plenty of good players in the squad.

Under 18s - Their first title win which I'm sure will the first of many given the quality coming through the youth department.

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Squad - So terrified I have become of losing players I actually had over 100 players on the books at the club. Utterly ridiculous and over the top, yes, I agree but aside from the odd player leaving through lack of playing time it ensured that I could at least maintain a consistent level of ability within the team. Being able to train full time next season is going to make such a difference for us, this season there were long periods where we didn't train at all, having to juggle a packed domestic calendar with European football. A lot of our high potential youngsters haven't developed at all even with significant game time so making them train full time will help dramatically. There will be a massive clear out of players next season as the majority of players at the club aren't good enough to take us where we want to be but there is definitely some talent I'd like to work with and develop especially those players that came through the youth intake this season.

Transfers - The loans from England were decent and Gravenberch DL was an exceptional signing on loan. I would go in for him again but his parent club Dundee United want too much money for him and I think I can bring in a similar level of quality for cheaper. We lost a few players which I perhaps would have wanted to keep but overall I'm not too unhappy with the players that left. Once I knew we would be turning professional I decided to reject all the offers for my talented youngsters who I'm hoping will form the spine of the team for years to come reducing the need for a lot of transfers. If I can build a core of excellent HG players it's going to make life a lot easier when it comes to squad registration.

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Average Rating: 7.20
He was having a great season until he decided to throw a strop about not playing enough games. He is a good player but hardly indispensable at this point, his future at the club will depend on the quality of the players that I can bring in. He also has competition from a 16 year old in Hill DC who came through the youth intake and is already better than him, his prospects aren't great.
 
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Average Rating: 6.94
The striker on loan from Arsenal did a good job for us and scored some great goals. I don't think I'll look to keep him as I have a range of striking talent coming through the ranks that I would like to develop. I'm also curious to see whether training full time in combination with first team football will help a player like Ward ST who has been stagnating of late while only being 18 years old.
 
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Finances - Our financial situation is excellent and I will be looking to utilize this money efficiently to build a strong team which will compete at the top end of N. Irish football. We no longer have anything impeding us, with a balance of £4M we could easily sustain a £50Kp/w wage bill and still be comfortable even if we didn't make it into Europe next season. Now that we have this seed money, it's time to push forward. I would like to be getting into the Champions League qualifiers within 2 seasons, we have already shown that we can beat the likes of Linfield, Larne and Glentoran as a part time club, there is no reason why we shouldn't be able to as a full time club. I can also start to think about becoming a selling club now which is a huge leap forward for the club. 

Facilities - Even though there is money to begin investing in the training and youth facilities I'm holding off for now. I think if we can win the DBP and qualify for the Champions League then I may have the confidence to start investing but until then I want to protect the balance we have and focus solely on improving the squad.

Youth Intake Part 1 Youth Intake Part 2 - What an amazing intake!!...We got 3 first team ready players in Hill DC, Sheridan ML & McCourt ST who off the bat are 3 of the best players at the club. I'm delighted they arrived as we embark upon the journey of becoming a professional club. If I can develop them correctly, those 3 players are going to prove instrumental in the development of this club. That's not to mention the other players in the intake who might not be first team ready immediately but have huge potential and could become star players for us also. For the first time, I'm really optimistic about the future of the club and can see a vision of how we are going to become a top club within N. Ireland.
 
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League Reputation - We had quite a jump this season which is always great to see. If we can manage another couple of similar jumps over the next couple of seasons we will become a 2.5* league. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to contribute to it next season so I'm hoping Larne can do a good job in our place.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - This is why we need to start winning trophies in N. Ireland, our reputation is still very low for a club with our lofty aspirations. Now that 1/3 of the DBP are professional I can see it becoming increasingly difficult for the part time clubs to qualify for Europe and get the financial injection needed to turn professional themselves. Over the next few seasons, I can see this table becoming more lopsided with a big 4 pulling away and increasing their reputation while the rest fall back.
 
Club European Reputation - We rose 265 places in the ranking which was more than any other team. We'll probably fall as next season will have a big fat 0.00 on it but what a dramatic improvement. Listed below is how the other N. Irish teams performed this season.

Linfield – Finished 3rd in Europa Conference League group – An incredibly strong campaign and if they could do similar next season they are going to be rolling in cash. They even had a chance of making it through to the knockout stages but a final day defeat at home to Fenerbache allowed them to overtake, to get 7 points however was an excellent return from them.

Glentoran – Lost 2-1 on aggregate to FC Honka in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – I don't know why they seem to be struggling so much when the other N. Irish teams appear to be making progress. Maybe a year out of Europe will do them some good.

Larne – Lost 6-3 on aggregate to Espanyol in Europa Conference League 4th Qualifying Round – Another team which had an exceptional run in the qualifiers, all the more impressive given they had the harder 'League Path'. They were never beating a team of that quality but they never got embarrassed and gave a good account of themselves.

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10 minutes ago, pheelf said:

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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2030 / 2031

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The board are feeling in a more optimistic mood and have decided that a mid table finish should be on the cards. I feel we should be capable of that but given that we are likely to continue to lose some of our best players we really ought to temper expectations, if we could make the top 6 again that would be a good achievement. As for Europe, I'd like to go as far as we possibly can through the qualifiers but looking at our lowly coefficient and the quality of the other teams we could face I'm not confident. We'd do well to match last seasons performance in my view. 

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League Table - We came tantalizingly close to making the top 6 after a herculean effort but in the end we fell just short. The season started really poorly for us, we managed only 3 wins and 2 draws out of our first 14 games leaving us in 11th. It looked like being another season of struggle but the busy December and January months saw a massive improvement in our form. We managed to win 9 games and drew 1 out of the next 14 games which took us to within striking range of Dungannon Swifts who were occupying 6th. Unfortunately for us, we suffered a damaging defeat at home to Warrenpoint Town which practically ended our chances of making it into the top 6. We did however secure 7th with two games to spare which gave us another chance of qualifying for the Europa Conference League. Elsewhere in the DBP, there was a titanic title battle this season with the destination of the trophy being decided on an exciting final day. Linfield were top with 75 points, Glenavon were in 2nd with 74 points and Larne were in 3rd with 73 points. That meant that either of those clubs could win the title if other results went their way. Linfield slipped up drawing 3-3 away at Cliftonville which opened the door for the other two clubs but unfortunately both couldn't capitalize. Larne lost away at Dungannon Swifts 2-1 and Glenavon lost 2-0 away at Glentoran. It would have been nice to see Glenavon win the title given they are still a part time club like us but even with the disappointment of missing out on the title they still had a exceptionally strong season. Warrenpoint Town survived another season after beating Ballyclare Comrades 5-3 in the relegation playoff while next season will see Coleraine return after they comfortably won the Championship title.

Danske Bank Premier UEFA Europa Conference League Playoff - I'm disappointed to have lost in the semi final but ultimately Larne were deserving winners of the game and also the final. When we scored an equalizer in the 92nd minute to take the game into extra time I thought we had a great chance and the momentum of the game was in our favour. Unfortunately, the mind may have been willing but my players legs were completely gone and we spent extra time just trying to cling on. We got close to taking them to penalties but conceded a sloppy goal (most likely due to tiredness) with 9 minutes to go and we simply couldn't recover. It's not the best outcome given we need to become regular participants in Europe if we are to get the money required to develop the club but maybe missing next season might prove beneficial in our case so we can fully focus on the domestic campaign.

UEFA Europa Conference League - This is why I'm not overly upset about losing the DBP Europa Conference League Playoff. Getting to the group stage is an incredible achievement for the club, the money we got ensured professional status from next season which is going to completely transform this club. We started with an easy draw facing Faroese opposition in the first qualifying round which we won easily although the aggregate scoreline wasn't particularly convincing. Then we drew a nightmare opponent in Dinamo from Croatia. I was gutted with the draw and thinking that we were not going to be able to even match our performance of last season. I then thought about how I was going to overcome such a huge ability gap between the two teams. Thankfully for us, the solution was rather gifted to us from the opposition manager who for some bizarre reason decided to field a box 4-2-2-2 formation in both legs. This played right into my hands with the 4-4-2 and I decided to get my team to focus down the flanks and hope to overload their fullbacks and get crosses into the 2 strikers. It seemed to work a treat and we pulled off an incredible pair of wins to put us into the 3rd qualifying round.

Shahter Qaragandy our opponents in the next round looked decent even though they only had one non grey player but even still, they were a much weaker opponent than Dinamo which gave me hope that we could win. In the end, we managed to eek out a narrow win at home in the first leg which meant I could s***house my way to a win in the tie with a draw away in Kazakhstan. In effect, that is what I did, played defensively and just tried to frustrate and stifle my opponents. It worked to set up a tough looking tie against Danish team Brondby IF. At this point, I was looking to gracefully bow out as they were such a tough opponent but I thought about it and formulated a game plan. I decided to put the mentality down a couple of notches to cautious for both legs. If we stuck with my usual positive mentality, my thoughts were that we would get overrun and likely hammered. Their strikers were quick and our defenders are slow so trying to play a higher line would have been dangerous. I was also setting out a challenge for them to break us down, by pressing less and attempting to hold shape. I was pessimistic about the plan as I thought their quality would be able to break us down eventually but it worked brilliantly, not only did we go to Denmark and come away with an unbelievable win we managed to keep them out at home to put us through to the group stage.

The group stage was basically an exercise in trying not to be embarrassed and in that endeavour, the players did an excellent job. We even came close to getting a point against VVV-Venlo in the final game of the group but unfortunately conceded a late goal to leave us pointless. I am however delighted with the campaign, this was the catalyst we desperately needed and marks the start of our journey to the top of N. Irish football. 

Domestic Cups - Overall we did better in the cups but still aren't consistently making it to the later stages, apart from that freak run to the Irish Cup final in 2025/2026 we haven't been to any other finals. The loss to 3rd division Armagh City in the Irish Cup was humiliating, the players didn't turn up and blew what was one of the easiest draws of the last 16. Especially gutting since Linfield got knocked out at the same stage also. Hopefully, next season will mean we can go deeper in these competition and finally claim our first piece of significant silverware in N. Ireland.

Reserves - Decent in the league but abysmal in the cups. I'm at a loss to explain why they did so poorly in the cups as there was plenty of good players in the squad.

Under 18s - Their first title win which I'm sure will the first of many given the quality coming through the youth department.

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Squad - So terrified I have become of losing players I actually had over 100 players on the books at the club. Utterly ridiculous and over the top, yes, I agree but aside from the odd player leaving through lack of playing time it ensured that I could at least maintain a consistent level of ability within the team. Being able to train full time next season is going to make such a difference for us, this season there were long periods where we didn't train at all, having to juggle a packed domestic calendar with European football. A lot of our high potential youngsters haven't developed at all even with significant game time so making them train full time will help dramatically. There will be a massive clear out of players next season as the majority of players at the club aren't good enough to take us where we want to be but there is definitely some talent I'd like to work with and develop especially those players that came through the youth intake this season.

Transfers - The loans from England were decent and Gravenberch DL was an exceptional signing on loan. I would go in for him again but his parent club Dundee United want too much money for him and I think I can bring in a similar level of quality for cheaper. We lost a few players which I perhaps would have wanted to keep but overall I'm not too unhappy with the players that left. Once I knew we would be turning professional I decided to reject all the offers for my talented youngsters who I'm hoping will form the spine of the team for years to come reducing the need for a lot of transfers. If I can build a core of excellent HG players it's going to make life a lot easier when it comes to squad registration.

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Average Rating: 7.20
He was having a great season until he decided to throw a strop about not playing enough games. He is a good player but hardly indispensable at this point, his future at the club will depend on the quality of the players that I can bring in. He also has competition from a 16 year old in Hill DC who came through the youth intake and is already better than him, his prospects aren't great.
 
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Average Rating: 6.94
The striker on loan from Arsenal did a good job for us and scored some great goals. I don't think I'll look to keep him as I have a range of striking talent coming through the ranks that I would like to develop. I'm also curious to see whether training full time in combination with first team football will help a player like Ward ST who has been stagnating of late while only being 18 years old.
 
beUaOsj.png

ESpRVre.png?1

Finances - Our financial situation is excellent and I will be looking to utilize this money efficiently to build a strong team which will compete at the top end of N. Irish football. We no longer have anything impeding us, with a balance of £4M we could easily sustain a £50Kp/w wage bill and still be comfortable even if we didn't make it into Europe next season. Now that we have this seed money, it's time to push forward. I would like to be getting into the Champions League qualifiers within 2 seasons, we have already shown that we can beat the likes of Linfield, Larne and Glentoran as a part time club, there is no reason why we shouldn't be able to as a full time club. I can also start to think about becoming a selling club now which is a huge leap forward for the club. 

Facilities - Even though the money to begin investing in the training and youth facilities I'm holding off for now. I think if we can win the DBP and qualify for the Champions League then I may have the confidence to start investing but until then I want to protect the balance we have and focus solely on improving the squad.

Youth Intake Part 1 Youth Intake Part 2 - What an amazing intake!!...We got 3 first team ready players in Hill DC, Sheridan ML & McCourt ST who off the bat are 3 of the best players at the club. I'm delighted they arrived as we embark upon the journey of becoming a professional club. If I can develop them correctly, those 3 players are going to prove instrumental in the development of this club. That's not to mention the other players in the intake who might not be first team ready immediately but have huge potential and could become star players for us also. For the first time, I'm really optimistic about the future of the club and can see a vision of how we are going to become a top club within N. Ireland.
 
beUaOsj.png
 
5F49iVV.png?1
 
League Reputation - We had quite a jump this season which is always great to see. If we can manage another couple of similar jumps over the next couple of season we will become a 2.5* league. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to contribute to it next season so I'm hoping Larne can do a good job in our place.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - This is why we need to start winning trophies in N. Ireland, our reputation is still very low for a club with our lofty aspirations. Now that 1/3 of the DBP are professional I can see it becoming increasingly difficult for the part time clubs to qualify for Europe and get the financial injection needed to turn professional themselves. Over the next few seasons, I can see this table becoming more lopsided with a big 4 pulling away and increasing their reputation while the rest fall back.
 
Club European Reputation - We rose 265 places in the ranking which was more than any other team. We'll probably fall as next season will have a big fat 0.00 on it but what a dramatic improvement. Listed below is how the other N. Irish teams performed this season.

Linfield – Finished 3rd in Europa Conference League group – An incredibly strong campaign and if they could do similar next season they are going to be rolling in cash. They even had a chance of making it through to the knockout stages but a final day defeat at home to Fenerbache allowed them to overtake, to get 7 points however was an excellent return from them.

Glentoran – Lost 2-1 on aggregate to FC Honka in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – I don't know why they seem to be struggling so much when the other N. Irish teams appear to be making progress. Maybe a year out of Europe will do them some good.

Larne – Lost 6-3 on aggregate to Espanyol in Europa Conference League 4th Qualifying Round – Another team which had an exceptional run in the qualifiers, all the more impressive given they had the harder 'League Path'. They were never beating a team of that quality but they did never got embarrassed and gave a good account of themselves.

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How many players have you got in the first team squad?

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Just now, paulmctevez said:

How many players have you got in the first team squad?

I think I had

- 34 players in the first team

- 63 players in the reserves

- 39 players in the U18s

That makes 136 players, far more than I have ever had on any save ever. I think the non-contracts meant that I felt no real need to let players go, if they don't play they don't get paid so it doesn't really matter if they hang about in the reserves. That will all be changing next season however. I think maybe having such a large squad probably had negative effects on training with such huge groups and few coaches but we were hardly training anyway so it probably didn't matter all that much anyway.

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On 11/11/2021 at 16:08, abulezz said:

This has to be one of the cleanest and most beautiful presentations I have seen - just fantastic. Reading it is fun, organized, and what a brilliant save you are having. Following for sure!

Thank you very much, I appreciate the comment and the follow. Now that we are a professional club, the real fun should hopefully start :).

3 hours ago, Adi Dhillon said:

Loving this so far

I'm glad that you're enjoying it. Next season review coming up.

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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2031 / 2032

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Becoming full time is a huge milestone in the development of the club. The board as a consequence have become more demanding and now expect us to finish in mid-table and make it to the later stages of the domestic cups. I don't think we'll be able to strengthen enough to mount a title challenge just yet as the gap to the other professional clubs is quite large. I'm hoping to however be in the top 4 amongst the other professional clubs. I would really like to win a significant cup this season too but that will depend on the luck of the draw. Getting back into European competition however is non-negotiable, we can maybe absorb the coming season without that prize money but 2 seasons would put our newly acquired professional status in jeopardy.

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League Table - We achieved the goal of making it into the top 4 which I'm pleased about. I am however a bit disappointed that the gap between us and the top 3 was so large. We didn't start the season well enough and I think the reason was that we had to try and gel so many new players into the team. That basically killed any chance we had of threatening the top 3. We also drew way too many games, most frustratingly, our most common scoreline was 0-0 which we managed 8 times during the season. I think the problem lies in our forward line as we led the league in terms of clear cut chances created with 144, next placed was the champions Glentoran who created 127 followed by Larne and Linfield on 108. That statistic tells me that we was incredibly wasteful in front of goal and it will be a priority to strengthen the front line so that we take more of our chances. Our expected goals was 67.79 (highest in the league) and we only managed 45 which is a massive under performance on that metric.

Elsewhere in the DBP, Newry City stayed up after beating Bangor 7-3 on aggregate in the relegation playoff. The shock winners of the Championship this season were Ballyclare Comrades who will appear in the DBP for the first time since the mid 90's next season. The title race once again went all the way to the final day but this time Glentoran clinched it thanks to a final day win at home to Cliftonville rendering the 1-1 draw Larne managed away at Glenavon meaningless. The season displayed good progress as we managed the highest finish we've ever had but the ultimate tell of its success or failure was whether we could qualify for the Europa Conference League through the playoff.

Danske Bank Premier UEFA Europa Conference League Playoff - The importance of winning the playoff wasn't lost on my players and the pressure was well and truly on but they showed great character to navigate their way to the Europa Conference League qualifiers for next season. The semi final was incredibly nervy with only an own goal separating the two teams, thankfully, the final was a far more comfortable affair. Glenavon did bring it back to 3-2 in the 78th minute but a goal in the 78th and 86th minutes settled any late jitters and allowed us to cruise to victory.

Domestic Cups - We came within seconds of taking the final of the League Cup to extra time but a heart breaker in the 4th minute of stoppage time at the end of the game handed Larne the trophy. We still haven't managed to break our duck when it comes to the domestic cups which is really discouraging. We weren't great in the Irish Cup which added pressure to the playoff as that avenue into Europe was cut off early. Given the choice, obviously, I would much rather we did well in the league but even still, a cup win would be a signal to the rest of N. Ireland that we are emerging as a force, the lack of any of the big trophies means that we aren't taken seriously when we state our aim is to become the dominant force within the country. 

Reserves - So close to a remarkable treble but had to settle for just winning the league. Overall, a fantastic achievement to win the league for the first time, most impressively, they done so by a 14 point margin over 2nd placed Linfield Swifts.

Under 18s - For the first time it looks possible that the team might become the dominant youth team in the country as they make it 2 in a row. It was only won on goal difference however so they have a way to go.

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Squad - It felt so good to be able to assemble a team and actually offer them contracts, removing the possibility of players being poached from us for nothing. In fact, I did a bit of poaching myself and picked up Reid DL for nothing from Championship team Institute and look how good a player he is. In order to mount a serious title challenge there are two areas of the team that need work. The first being in central midfield, the lack of a quality defensive minded central midfielder was a real detriment for us during the season. We need to find a dominant and commanding central midfielder to put alongside our more attacking minded central midfielders. The second area is the forward line, we need more prolific strikers who can bang in at least 20 goals every season, minimum.

I think McCourt ST is probably too young to shoulder that responsibility at only 16 years old and additionally he isn't a great finisher and might be too much of a good team player with his teamwork attribute of 19. Ideally, I want a selfish player who looks to score at every opportunity for the Advanced Forward role. The rest of my options aren't all the impressive neither. Hawthorne ST and Megaw ST need a lot more development to perform at the required level. Yeates ST has an unfortunate PPM in Comes Deep to Get Ball which kind of hampers him as outside of that he is the best fit for what I'm looking for with 14 finishing and 14 composure. While Bryant ST is just a terrible finisher whose finishing and composure are only 8. I've got Clifford ST and Steele ST coming up through the ranks who are both good for that role but I think they need a little longer before they will be ready for the first team. I think I'm probably at the end of the road with Ward ST who hasn't developed at all and looks way off the level needed.

Transfers - For the first time I splashed a bit of cash. I didn't get value for money at all with Cengiz ML who became a record transfer for the club but I did manage to bring in a lot of quality with pre-contract agreements. I found for the first time Brexit to be really hampering our attempts to broaden out our search for players. Having to shop exclusively in the UK & Ireland market is really expensive and it looks like I'm going to be forced into trying to develop our own HG players as the club can't afford to spend those sorts of transfer fees on players. I can't tell you how refreshing it has been to reject offers for players when before I would have been completely powerless.

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Average Rating: 7.37
A superb free transfer signing from FC Halifax who provided the highest amount of assists this season. He probably would have provided even more had our strikers been able to hit a barn door. Definitely would like to keep him for the foreseeable future.
 
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Alex Quinn - DC
Average Rating: 7.48
Solid as a rock in the central defence and still has a lot of room for further development. He was instrumental as to why we kept so many clean sheets, he did his job brilliantly, now we just need the other end of the pitch to do theirs.
 
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Finances - This is why it was so critical that we got back into Europe as without it we are completely unsustainable as a professional club. Realistically, we need to get into the group stages again to keep us ticking over, if we can't manage that then we are likely to lose our professional status at the end of next season. I won't be spending another penny in transfer fees and will need to be methodical and clever in my transfer dealings next season. I will also look to reduce the scouting packages to only the UK & Ireland given that my board won't allow me to scout outside that scope anyway.

Facilities - We simply aren't in any position to invest money into the facilities. I think we are looking at needing group stage prize money from the Champions League to be able to relax and go into full investment mode.

Youth Intake Part 1 Youth Intake Part 2 - Now that the standard of the first team has greatly improved the youth intakes are looking relatively poor in comparison. I think I'd rather have higher CA players than players with nice looking PA. We simply don't have the means to develop them to anywhere near their potential so it looks a waste. I got my DoF to recommend which players to sign and for the first time he actually didn't sign all of them. There may be some quality in there but only time will tell as to whether we can bring it out of them.
 
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League Reputation - The DBP went up but only barely and unless the N. Irish teams can perform better in Europe we are likely to stagnate and potentially start to fall back.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - The lack of any competition wins is really starting to sting now as we are nowhere near the other professional clubs in terms of reputation. It's going to make bringing in the quality of player we need to take us to the next level harder.
 
Club European Reputation - Unexpectedly, the club rose another 9 places in the ranking which was good, hopefully, another good season next time around can see us into the top 300. Listed below is how the other N. Irish teams performed this season.

Linfield – Finished 4th in Europa Conference League group – As much as I like seeing them getting into the group stage every season as that helps the coefficient, I'm starting to get concerned now as the money they are getting is helping them to pull away in financial terms from the other teams in N. Ireland. They have had over £5M in prize money, I doubt they will spend it wisely but even still, makes it much more difficult for us to compete.

Glentoran – Lost 6-2 on aggregate to Lokomotiva in Europa Conference League 2nd Qualifying Round – An absolute shambles to be perfectly honest, I can see them doing better next season however given they can drop down twice from the Champions League qualifiers.

Larne – Lost 4-3 on aggregate to Zeljeznicar in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – After last seasons great run this was a massive let down.

Glenavon – Lost 5-1 on aggregate to CSKA Sofia in Europa Conference League 1st Qualifying Round – Took a good pounding there, hopefully, next season we can show them how it's done and make good progress in their place.

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On 15/11/2021 at 14:05, abulezz said:

Another strong season with clear progress. Pretty soon, your youth academy is going to start giving you players that are going to get you to make noise in Europe, not just at a domestic level. 

Things have definitely been on the up since becoming a professional club. I'm hoping that the youth academy can continue to provide quality players as otherwise bringing in the young stars we want is going to cost a fortune from England and I'd like to turn us into a selling club as soon as possible. Next season review coming up.

All the best

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Donegal Celtic F.C.

SEASON 2032 / 2033

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I've been at the club for a decade now and the progress in that time has been steady rather than spectacular. As I embark upon the 2nd decade, I hope that the coming decade brings more rapid growth than the last. Last season we finished 4th in the league, I'd quite like to do better for the coming season. I think a title challenge might be asking too much but I'd like to break into the top 3 as that would signal good progress. The financial health of the club depends on us getting to the group stage of the Europa Conference League so I'm hoping for some favourable draws in the qualifiers to help us to achieve that. I'd also like to win the clubs first piece of significant silverware, whether that's the Irish Cup, League Cup or Country Antrim Shield, we've been in the DBP for 7 seasons now, if we are serious about becoming the dominant force in N. Irish football then I think it's about time we actually lifted a proper trophy.

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League Table - I don't think I have ever witnessed such a spectacular collapse before as shown by Linfield this season. We started the season rather poorly with only 5 wins, 4 draws and 5 losses in our first 14 games. That run had us rooted in 5th and it looked like we might actually decline overall in the season. We were going to need to show a dramatic improvement if we were to stand a chance of achieving our target of 3rd and thankfully we did. Much like in previous seasons, the busy December-January period was the turning point of our season. Our form picked up immensely with us winning all but one game in December and drawing the other. This elevated us to 4th but more importantly we had closed the gap to the top 3. Then followed a strong January. We lost 2-0 on New Years Day away at Ballymena United but then followed that disappointment with a 2-0 win of our own at Windsor Park. That loss at Ballymena United proved to be the last loss of the season and we only dropped points in two games after that, a 2-2 draw away at Coleraine on the 15th January and a 2-2 draw away at Cliftonville on the 26th February.

Even with our remarkable run, going in to the split we was still 11 points behind Linfield with only 15 points on offer from the final 5 games. At this point, reasonably, I assumed the title was gone and just wanted to end the season as strongly as we could and hopefully clinch 2nd which we had never finished in before. Well, the split started with a home game against Linfield. It looked like heading for a 1-1 draw which would have killed any faint hopes we had but then Clifford ST turned up with a 95th minute winner to reduce the gap to 8 points. The next game Linfield played at home to Larne where they only just managed a 2-2 draw with a stoppage time equalizer of their own. In our next game we were at home to Cliftonville and won 2-0 which reduced that gap to 6 points with 3 games to play. Then surprisingly there was even more dropped points for Linfield with a 1-1 draw away at Glentoran, we then scraped at 1-0 win away at Ballymena United to reduce the gap to just 4 points. They were still heavy favourites of course but for the first time we put a bit of pressure on them.

The penultimate matchday saw us at home to Larne and Linfield away at Cliftonville. If Linfield won, they were champions regardless of what we did but they didn't win only managing a 0-0 draw so when we narrowly win 1-0 at home to Larne the gap was down to just 2 points making for a final day showdown for the title which even the most optimistic of Donegal Celtic fan couldn't have anticipated. They on the face of it had an easier game at home to Ballymena United while we had to go to the Oval to play Glentoran and hope we can win as that was the only way we had a chance of lifting the title. The final day threw up a few interesting permutations. If they won, they would become champions. If they drew and we won we would win the title on goals scored with a 1-0 win as both teams would have identical goal difference, if we scored more then we would win the title on goal difference. If they lost we would win the title by a point.

When we went 1-0 up in the 12th minute we went top on goals scored. Then some devastating news from Windsor Park as Linfield took the lead in the 18th minute to drop us back to 2nd. I knew we couldn't control what happened there so I just focused on trying to secure the 3 points to at least continue to exert pressure on them. This seemed to feed through to the players and we scored a 2nd in the 32nd minute to give us a cushion. Going into half time, the title was theirs and we just had to hope that Ballymena United could get an equalizer. Then some encouraging news from Windsor Park, 53rd minute comes and Ballymena United grab a shock equalizer putting us top once again, this time on goal difference. Were Linfield going to throw it away? I wanted to ensure that if they did we would be in a position to capitalize and when we added a 3rd and a 4th goal in the 58th and 59th minutes I knew we had done our job, now it was down to whether Ballymena United could hold on for a draw. Those last 30 minutes was absolute torture constantly checking the score at Windsor Park but by some miracle Ballymena United held on to hand us our first ever DBP title and give us Champions League football which realistically, we had no right to get. What an end to a season, absolutely incredible. Elsewhere in the DBP, Glentoran thrashed Cliftonville 4-0 in the Europa Conference League playoff to make it only professional clubs competing in Europe next season while Newry City stayed up with a 2-0 aggregate win over Carrick Rangers in the relegation playoff. Warrenpoint Town claimed the Championship title on goal difference over H&W Welders with both teams on 70 points to return to the top flight next season. Elsewhere in N. Ireland, affiliate club Annagh United won the NIFL PIL title while Lisburn Distillery had a close scrape with relegation to the 4th division but thankfully stayed up. They are a club which should be competing at a much higher level.   

UEFA Europa Conference League - Aside from the penalty shootout win over PAOK, the qualifiers were actually relatively smooth sailing. I was a little disturbed when we conceded 4 goals in the last 30 minutes of the 2nd leg of the Dinamo Minsk game to put them within a goal of taking the tie to extra time but we held on which was the main thing. We even had aspirations of making it through the group but unfortunately the final 2 group games ended our chances. I'm however really happy about our campaign, we managed 6 points which is quite good compared to the last time when we managed none. The money we gained was also incredibly helpful in securing the clubs future. I hope that we can compete in the bigger European competition group stages soon but if we dropped into these group stages again I wouldn't be overly disappointed especially since we should have an easier route through the qualifiers in the 'Champions' route.

Domestic Cups - After the penalty shootout loss in the League Cup final, I was beginning to think we was cursed and destined never to win a domestic cup. Thankfully, the players took that disappointment of watching Linfield lift the trophy and used it to inspire them to perform in the Irish Cup. I admit the run wasn't the hardest to the final but who cares, we turned up in that final and battered Glentoran to be deserved winners, making history and lifting our first Irish Cup to make it an incredible double. I guess trophies are like buses, you wait ages for one, then two come along at the same time. The only domestic trophies left to win now are the League Cup, County Antrim Shield and Irish Champions Cup, hopefully we can put those in the trophy cabinet before too long.

Reserves - Glad to see them win the Steel & Sons Cup again but a little disappointed that they finished runners up in the league. It was by a point but even still, I would have liked to see them retain the title.

Under 18s - Dropped back to 2nd this season which was poor but I guess understandable given that a lot of the best players to come through the youth department play in either the Reserves or the first team.

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Squad - We seemed to put the goal scoring problems of last season well and truly behind us as we ended the league season with the highest number of goals scored. We still drew too many games and I'm not entirely satisfied with how long it takes to get ourselves into form. We can't afford to keep starting seasons as poorly as we have been as while we managed to miraculously over turn the deficit this season, we had like a 1 in 100 seasons type event. 99 times out of 100, Linfield manages to win one of the final 5 games and claims the title. I am also mindful that a new problem is raising it's ugly head. Before it was a case of not being able to hold onto players because of non-contracts, now it's a case of contracted players wanting to move to bigger clubs. The chief protagonist being Reid DL who was in my ear all season long asking for a move. I think he will get his move next season as I don't want to lose him for nothing but I know he is going to be difficult to replace. In fact, we are going to be losing some significant players such as Quinn DC and Bryant ST who I will struggle to replace. We need a quality Deep Lying Forward (Support), Central Midfielder (Defend) to replace Wheeler MC whose loan comes to an end, fullbacks, central defenders and a goalkeeper. That's quite an extensive list but all necessary to improve the squad which is going to be weakened. 

Transfers - Some decent players were brought in but no real stars arrived. The pick of the free transfers we brought in was probably Tamang ST whose goals propelled us up the table. The signing of the season was definitely Wheeler MC however, he solidified the central midfield and is going to be a huge loss when he leaves. He is too expensive to bring back on loan as his parent club want 50% of his wages which is simply too much at £8Kp/w and given his market value we have no chance of buying him. I looked like bringing in a Croatian goalkeeper from West Ham called Batinovic in January and when doing contract negotiations with him the game stated that as long as I paid him over £1.5Kp/w he would be granted a work permit. Well I was happy to do that given his ability so he signed a contract for that amount. Then we got a message that his work permit was declined and we couldn't apply for another 120 days. I don't understand and if that's how it's going to work going forward then it's going to severely restrict our ability to bring in the sort of players we need which are affordable and can improve the squad. I was gutted to lose last seasons player of the season Santos MR for such as small amount but that was his release fee so I've been offering new contracts to players I'd like to keep and raising their minimum release clauses. I feel that the players I loaned to Annagh United really helped them to win the NIFL PIL title which I'm pleased to see. 

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Average Rating: 7.67
This season proved that perhaps the fee paid for him wasn't that over priced after all. He was critical to our team and the assists he provided were priceless to the team. He can definitely help us on our journey and I'll be looking to keep him.
 
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Average Rating: 7.25
I said I needed a 20 goal a season striker and he stepped up to the plate and showed that he could be just that. He lost a bit of his mojo when I brought Tamang ST into the club but still has a lot of potential and is developing well. I like the competition he has in Clifford ST and Steele ST also. If we can get him closer to 30 goals next season we are going to have a great season.
 
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Finances - The financial worries of last season appear to have been resolved for now. I was also encouraged to see the takeover of the club by a consortium at the end of the season. Their first acts being to pump £140k into the clubs accounts and significantly increase the transfer budget. If they continue in the same vein going forward we are going to get on brilliantly as I have big ambitions for this club. The clubs income appears to be going in the right direction with all the important factors like ticket prices increasing season upon season. Even so, I feel that we need Champions League group stage money to really push the club forward so I will be doing my best to make that happen next season.

Facilities - I still don't have the confidence to start improving the facilities, I know it's hampering us having to use such basic facilities but we aren't quite ready yet. 

Youth Intake Part 1 Youth Intake Part 2 - The quality of the intakes is declining but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that our first team is massively improving. I'm not convinced any of these players will develop quickly enough to help us on our journey given the less than optimal surroundings but who knows. Reid DL came from less than ideal circumstances at Institute and has become our best player that is still improving so you can never tell.
 
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League Reputation - A massive improvement and for the first time 2.5* reputation comes into shot. If we could manage that for next season that is going to make a huge difference for us. I was also encouraged by the following message.
 
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This is great news for the nation, now teams will only have to win through 3 ties to get to the group stage rather than 4. The next significant step is 16th place which gives a 2nd Champions League qualification spot but that is a long way off.
 
Club Domestic Reputation - The double really has catapulted us into the nations consciousness and we are now only slightly behind the most reputable clubs in the country. If we could retain the DBP title that would go a long way to putting us among the elite in terms of N. Ireland.
 
Club European Reputation - A massive rise of 179 places in to the top 200 which is going to be immensely helpful when it comes to seeding in the Champions League qualifiers. I'm hoping that it might afford us seeding in the early rounds which greatly improves the chance of getting to a group stage. Listed below is how the other N. Irish teams performed this season.

Linfield – Lost 5-2 on aggregate to OB in Europa Conference League 3rd Qualifying Round – Gave it a good try but the opposition were simply too strong for them.

Glentoran – Lost 4-2 on penalties after 3-3 draw on aggregate with BATE in Europa Conference League 4th Qualifying Round – I feel gutted for them to make it so close to the group stage and fall so painfully at the final hurdle.

Larne – Lost 2-1 on aggregate to Aberdeen in Europa Conference League 4th Qualifying Round – Another team which had a good season only to narrowly miss out on the group stage. Imagine what it would have meant for the nation had 3 teams made it into the Europa Conference League group stages, hopefully, such a occurrence isn't too far into the future.

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On 17/11/2021 at 19:24, nanderson08.rc said:

Great progress

Thanks, unexpectedly getting into the Champions League qualifiers is such a huge boost. If I could somehow navigate my way to the group stage, the prize money would totally revolutionize the club. As it is such an important milestone in the clubs development, I will be doing in-depth reporting of the qualifiers until I make it into the group stages of the Champions League.

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Season 2033 / 2034

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I think our previous performances in the UEFA Europa Conference League will mean we get seeded for the 1st Qualifying Round but should we get past that we will definitely get a tough opponent in the 2nd Qualifying Round as we will be unseeded. I hope we can at least make it past the 1st Qualifying Round as that would greatly increase our chances of getting into a group stage. In a dream scenario, we get through to the group stages of the Champions League but that would require us to win through 4 ties which is a heavy lift for a club of our size. I think a more realistic target is to get knocked out in the 2nd Qualifying Round, that way we can drop into the 3rd Qualifying Round of the Europa League and have a good chance of making it into the Europa Conference League group stage.

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It appears we are actually unseeded for the 1st Qualifying Round (highest coefficient of the unseeded teams) which means that the teams we could face are much harder. Listed in descending order in terms of coefficient, I will get one of Qarabag, Maccabi Haifa, Red Star Belgrade, Olimpija, Astana, Shamrock Rovers, Malmo, Dudelange, Puskas Academia, Slovan Bratislava, HJK Helsinki, Sheriff Tiraspol, Ararat Armenia, KF Vllanzia or Shakter Soligorsk. I'd like to avoid any team with a coefficient higher than Dudelange but I would be more than happy to face any team with a lower coefficient except maybe HJK Helsinki who have strong looking squad.
 
Who did we draw?
 
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NK Olimpija Ljubljana

I'm not too pleased about this draw as they are one of the worst teams we could have gotten. Let's see if I feel differently after looking at their squad.

Our squad
 
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Their squad
 
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I'm feeling a little bit more confident after seeing their team although there are a couple of serious warning signs. They are much fitter than we are, as our players haven't even played a single friendly yet. We are also missing two of our best left midfielders in Cengiz who is suspended while Turner got a bad injury a few days before the game. Looking at it realistically, I'd say the tie is on a knife edge with either team capable of winning.
 
1st Qualifying Round 1st Leg
 
Here's how the two teams lined up:
 
In my excitement to get the campaign started I forgot to take a screenshot of the team sheet so it's missing. I did manage to remember it for the 2nd Leg though.
 
I can tell you however that they went with a narrow 4-2-3-1 which gave us a huge advantage down the flanks with our 4-4-2 shape. Seeing that I decided to add the team instruction to go down the flanks in the hope that I could grab a goal or two in the 1st leg away in Slovenia through overloading their fullbacks. I expect to lose the battle for possession and control of the central midfield but if we could at least get a result which keeps us in the tie maybe we can turn them over in the 2nd leg.
 
Result
 
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NK Olimpija Ljubljana 0 Donegal Celtic 0
 
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Before the game, I would have been happy with this result but given the way that we peppered their goal with shots, I'm not actually that satisfied. As away goals no longer count, I guess that it's not such a big opportunity missed and we can go into the 2nd leg in front of our home fans at square one. I will take encouragement from the fact we should have scored based on our xG rating which proves that with a bit more composure in front of goal we should be able to get goals against them. It was also great to see that even though we lost the battle for possession we kept it very close which bodes well for us considering that their chosen formation depends on them controlling possession.

1st Qualifying Round 2nd Leg

Here's how the two teams lined up:
 
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This time they have chosen a more sensible 4-4-1-1 formation which I think has the potential to cause us more problems. We are going to need to find a way to keep Velasco AMC quiet as that is going to be key for us, he is their main creative outlet and if he is allowed to dominate the ball in that golden zone we are going to have serious problems. I hope that Harris MC can mark him out of the game and shackle him. We can thankfully welcome back Cengiz which could make a big difference for us on the left flank. This game is going to be close, we have to perform, if we do that then we have a chance.

Result

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Donegal Celtic 1 NK Olimpija Ljubljana 0
 
Donegal Celtic win 1-0 on aggregate
 
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They dominated the ball but we certainly deserved to win the game and the tie, no question about it. It took a cross to the back post and an unmarked Cengiz to head us into the lead but a win is a win. I was concerned with the number of yellow cards we picked up and I was fearing a red but thankfully, we managed to spread them out over the team and avoided going down to 10 men. I was desperate to get through this round and we have, next up awaits a tough opponent in the 2nd Qualifying Round.
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Season 2033 / 2034

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As we are unseeded we know that we are going to get a tough team. All the harder teams from the 1st Qualifying Round apart from Astana progressed through and now we have Khimki, Slavia Prague & FC Midtjylland join the fun as potential opponents. AEK Larnakas also join but they are unseeded like us with a lower coefficient. There are some nice teams we could draw but I'm bracing myself for the worst.
 
Who did we draw?
 
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Maccabi Haifa F.C.

This is about as tough as it gets at this stage of the competition. I don't see how we get past a team like this over two legs without a huge stroke of luck going in our favour.

Our squad
 
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Their squad
 
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They are miles better than us and have individual players earning more a week than our entire starting 11. Worse still they look fit and are coming off the back of 3-0 aggregate win over Lechia Gdansk in the 1st Qualifying Round. We also aren't helped by the loss of Harris MC to injury and will have to depend on a totally unfit Roberts in the central midfielder (defend) role. I'm not optimistic but perhaps the way they lineup will give me some inspiration as to how I can overcome the ability gap and beat them.
 
2nd Qualifying Round 1st Leg
 
Here's how the two teams lined up:
 
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I don't really know what the obsession is with teams fielding the 4-2-2-2DM box formation against us but for some reason the European teams we face in the qualifiers really seem to like that formation. It's a mystery to me as it guarantees that we can dominate the flanks with our 4-4-2 and gives us an effective outlet to relieve pressure on our defence. I won't complain however as that might just help us to close the gap in ability when I instruct the team to focus play down the flanks once again. I'd be happy if we can end the night with a result which at least keeps us in the tie. I think they will have too much quality for us to beat them but a draw would be a good result for us.
 
Result
 
Spoiler
Maccabi Haifa F.C. 1 Donegal Celtic 0
 
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As expected they completely dominated the ball but you would be very hard-pressed to say that they deserved to win the game outright. We had a higher xG. had more shots and more corners. When they scored after 28 minutes with a half volley rocketed into the top left corner I was fearing the worst but we held our own for the rest of the game and were unlucky not to get a goal of our own. We've got a lot of work to do to turn this around but we are still in the tie with a 1 goal deficit to make up so I'm not willing to give up the ghost just yet.

2nd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg

Here's how the two teams lined up:
 
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This time they went for a more menacing 4-2-3-1 formation and now I'm seriously worried about our chances of overturning the 1st leg defeat. In more positive news, Harris MC returns after his injury which is a boost for the central midfield. We will also play the game at Donegal Celtic Park so I'm hoping for strong home support to make up for the 1 fan which bothered to go to Israel. This game will be won or lost depending who is more clinical with their chances. If the Maccabi Haifa players turn up and have their shooting boots on we have no chance. I've just got to hope that they might suffer a bit of complacency which could open the door for us. What I would give for an early red card for them or something to swing the game in our favour, we are going to need a bit of luck but we can do it if we believe.

Result

Spoiler
Donegal Celtic 1 Maccabi Haifa F.C. 0
 
Donegal Celtic win 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw on aggregate
 
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I certainly can't complain about a lack of luck in this game and somehow we managed a minor miracle to win and progress through to the next round where we will be seeded!. Maccabi Haifa certainly didn't deserve to lose the game but then on balance, we didn't really deserve to lose the 1st leg so I guess it balances out. We scored just after half time when McCourt ST headed in from a wide free kick delivered by Crockett DL (who suffered a month-long injury meaning he will miss the rest of the qualifiers). It was a tight and tentative affair after that point but we managed to drag them all the way to penalties. When Clifford ST stepped up for us on the 1st kick and their goalkeeper Perets guessed correctly by diving to his left and palmed it wide it was the worst possible start to the shootout. But then almost identically their player Wang Jin had his penalty saved by our goalkeeper McHugh.
 
Next up for us was Tamang ST who sent the goalkeeper the wrong way by slotting into the bottom left corner to give us a 1-0 lead. Colwill then stepped up for them and blazed it into the top left corner with McHugh guessing correctly but unable to get anywhere near it to level the score at 1-1. Cengiz ML then similarly placed his shot into the top left corner to give us a 2-1 lead. Terzic then stepped up for them and placed it low into the bottom left-hand corner to once again level it up and make it 2 penalties scored apiece. Then substitute Kane MC confidently stepped up and smashed it off the crossbar to hand the advantage to the Israeli opponents, this is from a guy who wants to play more games, well, if that was meant to encourage me into starting you more then you failed. Next up for Maccabi Haifa was Ganago who had the opportunity to make us pay after our miss but smashed it down the middle and McHugh was able to block it. It was a great save from McHugh as he had already looked to be diving out of the way but was able to recover and get a strong hand on it to parry it away.
 
We were handed a lifeline and with the score still at 2-2 we went into sudden death. Another substitute stepped up in Roberts MC and I was thinking he might miss but he showed great composure and placed the ball in the top right postage stamp to put us 3-2 up and pile immense pressure on the next penalty taker for Maccabi Haifa Joao Mario. Well if he felt any pressure he certainly didn't show it as the experienced Portuguese fullback smashed it into the bottom left corner to make it 3-3, McHugh dived correctly but it was so well placed there was no way he could keep it out. Now we're getting to the part of the shootout where players are stepping up who don't really want to take a penalty. Up steps young HG talent Hall DC who shows composure beyond his years as he smashes it into the top right-hand corner to put us 4-3 up. Their goalkeeper guesses correctly and dives for it but it's struck so clean that he can't get a hand to it. Nisanov then steps for Maccabi Haifa and plants it into the bottom right corner although McHugh came within inches of getting a hand to it and parrying it away. The scores are tied at 4-4 and Essel DR is up next. He doesn't look confident but places the ball accurately into the bottom left corner with the goalkeeper almost getting there but not quite close enough, we are 5-4 up. Then Maccabi Haifa captain Caceres step up, I'm thinking it's a certainty he will score but he hits a timid effort towards the bottom right corner which McHugh easily parries away to become the hero and hand us the win. What an incredible result for us, this penalty shootout win could be a significant turning point in our career.
 
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Season 2033 / 2034

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Being seeded could be a huge benefit for us but then again the pool of teams is much smaller now and even some of the unseeded teams look strong. We could face Grasshoppers, HJK Helsinki, FK RFS (A Latvian side), AEK Larnakas, Shamrock Rovers (setting up an all Irish tie) or FC Midtjylland. The Cypriot side, the Latvian side or Shamrock Rovers would be my preference but it's a 50:50 shot, let's see who we get.
 
Who did we draw?
 
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Grasshopper Club Zurich

Oh FFS!...This is a nightmare of a draw and being seeded has provided no help what so ever it seems. They are probably the toughest of the teams we could have faced, I really hope that there is at least something encouraging to look at when it comes to their squad.

Our squad
 
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Their squad
 
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After looking at their squad I'm feeling a lot better about our chances than after the draw was made. They have 4 non-grey players which is source of optimism for us. The players they do have are however quite strong attribute wise. In some ways it might have been better if they had more non-grey players. At least I would have a faint idea of how good those players are, I have no information about the greyed out players and for all I know they could be exceptionally good. If the level of the grey players is determined by the average level of the non-grey players this is going to be a hard tie for us to win.
 
3rd Qualifying Round 1st Leg
 
Here's how the two teams lined up:
 
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You've got to love some of the surnames given for some of these grey players, Diet, Herter, Aliji, Urun & Bonorand, they sound hilarious. As the home leg is first I'd like to at least have a lead to take to Switzerland. Much like Maccabi Haifa in the 1st leg, they went with a 4-2-2-2DM Box formation so I will be looking to exploit this by channeling our attacks down the flanks.
 
Result
 
Spoiler
Donegal Celtic 2 Grasshopper Club Zurich 1
 
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They came out strong and we had a real struggle to compete with them. As the game was going on I was beginning to think that a draw could be a good result given their domination of the game. Then a senseless penalty was given away in the 70th minute which they put away to put us 1-0 down. I knew that as a final score would likely be the end of our Champions League campaign so I sought to get an equalizer by making some attacking substitutions. Both my forward line of Tamang and McCourt were having poor games so I brought on Clifford and Steele. Cengiz was also having a shocker so I hooked him off for Christie. The impact was almost immediate and in the 79th minute Kelly MR headed in on the back post from a great cross from Christie. It looked like ending as a draw but then in the 4th minute of stoppage time at the end of the game, Kelly was downed in the box after another great cross from Christie on the left flank to give us a penalty and the chance to win the game. Sub Clifford stepped up to take it and calmly slotted it into the bottom right corner to hand us a lead to take to Switzerland which was an outcome I was delighted by but perhaps one we didn't really deserve given the run of the game. I think this game more than any other shows just how important substitutions can be. Sometimes tactical changes aren't what you need to turn a game around. 

3rd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg

Here's how the two teams lined up:
 
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A completely different set of names as greyed out players and thus potentially a completely different challenge ahead of us. We know we only need a draw but I don't feel we are going to be able to keep them out so will likely need to score in Switzerland. I want us to perform better than we did in the first leg as they were so comfortable and we were lucky to win. This time they have gone with a 3-5-2WB formation which could be okay for us and once again I'll be looking to overload their wingbacks although I think our strikers will find it a bit more difficult given they are outnumbered.

Result

Spoiler
Grasshopper Club Zurich 2 Donegal Celtic 1
 
Donegal Celtic win 4-3 on penalties after a 3-3 draw on aggregate
 
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For the first time, I almost feel sorry for our opponents, there is no way that we should have won this tie. They battered us from start to finish and it's a great injustice they only managed to score twice with an xG rating of nearly 4. They outplayed us in practically every department. I really have to look to our captain McHugh GK who once again proved to be our hero, not only during the game by pulling off a string of fine saves but also during the penalty shootout where he was superb. This was after we actually managed to get a lead in the 40th minute from an unchallenged Hall DC header on the back post from a Cengiz corner from the left. At half time we looked good but the second half was a horrible watch, wave after wave of attack with them grabbing the equalizer in the 46th minute and taking the lead with a beautifully placed shot from the edge of the area in the 67th minute.
 
They had a few opportunities to win the game in the 2nd half after that point but thankfully we managed to keep them out to take the game into extra time. They did continue to dominate the game in extra time but I decided to be a bit more defensive as I didn't feel we could grab a goal and thought our best chance would be in a penalty shootout. After 30 nerve-shredding minutes, we did it even after going down to 10 men due to injury to set up our 2nd penalty shootout in consecutive ties. We would kick first and up stepped Tamang to get the shootout underway. He hits it with good power and finds the bottom right-hand corner to put us 1-0 up. The opposition goalkeeper Smiljanic dives correctly but can't reach it. Stepping up for them, the left-footed Mariani also finds the bottom right-hand corner to make it 1-1. Next up for us is Lehmann MC who looks absolutely exhausted and it shows as he hits a weak shot down the middle and it's saved to hand Grasshopper the advantage. Substitute Migliaccio is up next for them to drive home their advantage but he also hits a shocking penalty right down the middle which McHugh saves easily to keep the score at 1-1.
 
Then it's Roberts MC turn and he emphatically finds the top right-hand corner, smashing past their goalkeeper who guesses correctly which way to dive but can't get anywhere near it. We lead 2-1 and next up for them Arigoni, he smashes it down the middle but this time McHugh dives out of the way and can't recover so the ball finds the net to level the scores at 2-2. Then a nervous-looking Clifford ST steps up for us but he shows nerves of steel to hammer it into the top left-hand corner past the flailing goalkeeper to put us up 3-2. Up next for them is Brahimi and he sends McHugh the wrong way and calmly passes the ball into the left-hand side of the goal to make it 3-3. Now we are in sudden death, I give the 5th and potentially crucial penalty to our goalscorer Hall who just about manages to squeeze the ball past their goalkeeper into the bottom left-hand corner. A close escape as the goalkeeper almost gets fingertips to it but Hall hits it with just enough power to get it past him into the net. We are 4-3 up and now all the pressure falls on their taker Ruegg to keep them alive in the shootout. He steps up and fires it right down the middle into McHugh who punches it away to give us another penalty shootout win to take us through to the playoff and guaranteed Europa League group stage football. What a remarkable achievement, could we do the unthinkable and get to the group stages of the Champions League at the first time of asking?
 
Edited by pheelf
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Season 2033 / 2034

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There are no easy draws left now and we are going to be unseeded for the playoff round. It's going to be either Olympiacos, Red Star Belgrade, Shakhtar Donetsk or Dinamo Zagreb. Of those teams I want to avoid Shakhtar and Olympiacos. I might be able to compete with Red Star Belgrade but feel I would have my best chance if I drew Dinamo.
 
Who did we draw?
 
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GNK Dinamo Zagreb

Oh, you beauty!! Got exactly who we wanted and all of a sudden that place in the group stages isn't looking quite so impossible as it did at the start of the campaign. I'm really happy about this as we have beaten them before in the Europa Conference League qualifiers, winning both legs. We should be a much better team now than we were then so we should have a great chance (famous last words).

Our squad
 
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Their squad
 
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They have an injury to one of their best young players which is encouraging but we also will be missing players through injury and also perhaps significantly Harris MC will be suspended for the 1st leg. This is still a formidable opponent and we are going to need to put in a pair of good performances to get through the tie.
 
Playoff Round 1st Leg
 
Here's how the two teams lined up:
 
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The first leg is in Croatia and I feel a decent result for us would be a draw. They will adopt a 4-2DM-1-3 formation which will be an interesting variant on the more attacking 4-2-3-1. I think the key to success here is keeping their wide forwards quiet although that may prove difficult given how weak our left back Holmes is. Come on lads, one final push and we are in the group stages of the Champions League, that is a massive incentive to perform.
 
Result
 
Spoiler
GNK Dinamo Zagreb 1 Donegal Celtic 1
 
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I'll take this result all day long (and twice on Sundays). I do get a distinct feeling however that we are beginning to 'fluke' our way through these games. Another game in which we were totally dominated and did not deserve the result we ended up achieving. They missed a penalty in the 7th minute and scored after the 10th minute. I think if they had gotten a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes that they would have probably beaten us convincingly but with a 1-0 lead we were still in the picture and the frustration started to mount in their team that they weren't further ahead which we took advantage of. In the 59th minute, we deliver the savage psychological blow. We get a free-kick out wide on the left flank, Roberts MC fires it into McCourt ST who was facing away from the goal around the penalty area, he then lays it back into the path of Hill who is completely unmarked. Hill then hits it first time from slightly right of centre and fires a rocket from around 15 yards out into the top left-hand corner. A cracking goal from a well-worked free kick that gives us a completely undeserved equalizer. I then proceed to make some defensive changes and we hold on for a draw. Could we be facing an unprecedented 3rd penalty shootout in a row in the 2nd leg?

Playoff Round 2nd Leg

Here's how the two teams lined up:
 
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We are so close to the group stages we can almost taste it. It would be gutting to get so close and then fall at the final hurdle. They will be fielding a narrow 4-1-2-1-2 diamond and I couldn't be happier to see it. If our wide players can have a strong game then we are going to cause them a lot of problems down the flanks. The chance to make history is there, can we do it?

Result

Spoiler
Donegal Celtic 2 GNK Dinamo Zagreb 1
 
Donegal Celtic win 3-2 on aggregate
 
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YES!!!... Unbelievably we have somehow managed to get through 4 rounds of qualification to find our way to the group stage of the Champions League. Wow...absolutely incredible!!. This game didn't start all that well for us as we had a goal chalked off from Cooper DC from a marginal offside decision. They then went and scored to put us 2-1 down on aggregate. At that point, I was thinking we were going to blow our big chance. We huffed and puffed but we just weren't getting through and with 70 minutes on the clock, I decided it was time for some changes. Off came Cengiz ML for Christie ML and also a poorly rated Cooper DC for Birch DC. That seemed to spring us into life and in the 78th minute, we found an equalizer. A wide free-kick from Harris crossed to the back post, Birch headed it forward into McCourt ST and with the deftest of touches directed his header past the Dinamo goalkeeper. With extra time on the horizon, I was beginning to think that we were going to have to go through potentially another penalty shootout but thankfully sub Christie had other ideas. A cross comes in from Essel towards Christie who is around 30 yards from goal. I'm thinking he would look to pass, nope, he decided to hit it plum on the volley and smashes a howitzer into the bottom left-hand corner. What a fantastic goal and such a fitting way to win the tie. Eager not to let it go I make some defensive changes and we hold on to make history.
 
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We had to struggle for it but we've pulled off something rather incredible here. Whether we deserve it is open to debate but at this point, I couldn't care less. The prize money of nearly £13M will definitely make us stronger and now the proper development of the club can begin. We got drawn into Group G and our opponents are in the table below.
 
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It's going to be a rough ride, two former winners and a very strong Spanish team but at this point, the money is all that matters. If we can get any points that in itself will be a huge achievement but I sense it will be a case of trying to keep the score down. I really didn't expect to be at this point already but I'm not going to complain about it! It was a shock to win the DBP last season and now the task is to keep getting into the group stages consistently. If we could do that then we are really going to supercharge the growth of the club. That will conclude the in-depth reports, for now. When/if we reach the quarter final stage of any UEFA competition then they will return. 
 
Edited by pheelf
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Making it into the group stage is a massive thing, as you say, the prize money is more than enough to keep you on top of things for a fair bit, and, if you put it into the development side, thats when things get more fun. :D

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14 hours ago, pheelf said:

pm1Dv15.jpg

Season 2033 / 2034

beUaOsj.png
 
9RLcGB8.png?1
 
There are no easy draws left now and we are going to be unseeded for the playoff round. It's going to be either Olympiacos, Red Star Belgrade, Shakhtar Donetsk or Dinamo Zagreb. Of those teams I want to avoid Shakhtar and Olympiacos. I might be able to compete with Red Star Belgrade but feel I would have my best chance if I drew Dinamo.
 
Who did we draw?
 
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GNK Dinamo Zagreb

Oh, you beauty!! Got exactly who we wanted and all of a sudden that place in the group stages isn't looking quite so impossible as it did at the start of the campaign. I'm really happy about this as we have beaten them before in the Europa Conference League qualifiers, winning both legs. We should be a much better team now than we were then so we should have a great chance (famous last words).

Our squad
 
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Their squad
 
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They have an injury to one of their best young players which is encouraging but we also will be missing players through injury and also perhaps significantly Harris MC will be suspended for the 1st leg. This is still a formidable opponent and we are going to need to put in a pair of good performances to get through the tie.
 
Playoff Round 1st Leg
 
Here's how the two teams lined up:
 
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The first leg is in Croatia and I feel a decent result for us would be a draw. They will adopt a 4-2DM-1-3 formation which will be an interesting variant on the more attacking 4-2-3-1. I think the key to success here is keeping their wide forwards quiet although that may prove difficult given how weak our left back Holmes is. Come on lads, one final push and we are in the group stages of the Champions League, that is a massive incentive to perform.
 
Result
 
  Reveal hidden contents
GNK Dinamo Zagreb 1 Donegal Celtic 1
 
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I'll take this result all day long (and twice on Sundays). I do get a distinct feeling however that we are beginning to 'fluke' our way through these games. Another game in which we were totally dominated and did not deserve the result we ended up achieving. They missed a penalty in the 7th minute and scored after the 10th minute. I think if they had gotten a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes that they would have probably beaten us convincingly but with a 1-0 lead we were still in the picture and the frustration started to mount in their team that they weren't further ahead which we took advantage of. In the 59th minute, we deliver the savage psychological blow. We get a free-kick out wide on the left flank, Roberts MC fires it into McCourt ST who was facing away from the goal around the penalty area, he then lays it back into the path of Hill who is completely unmarked. Hill then hits it first time from slightly right of centre and fires a rocket from around 15 yards out into the top left-hand corner. A cracking goal from a well-worked free kick that gives us a completely undeserved equalizer. I then proceed to make some defensive changes and we hold on for a draw. Could we be facing an unprecedented 3rd penalty shootout in a row in the 2nd leg?

Playoff Round 2nd Leg

Here's how the two teams lined up:
 
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We are so close to the group stages we can almost taste it. It would be gutting to get so close and then fall at the final hurdle. They will be fielding a narrow 4-1-2-1-2 diamond and I couldn't be happier to see it. If our wide players can have a strong game then we are going to cause them a lot of problems down the flanks. The chance to make history is there, can we do it?

Result

  Reveal hidden contents
Donegal Celtic 2 GNK Dinamo Zagreb 1
 
Donegal Celtic win 3-2 on aggregate
 
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