Sean Connor in talks with Derry City and Finn Harps about potential loan signings
INSTITUTE BOSS Sean Connor insists he’s far from finished assembling his squad ahead of their NIFL Championship opener against Co. Tyrone neighbours, Dergview on August 7th.
In fact the Belfast man is pursuing at least three possible loan targets from both the League of Ireland and the Irish Premiership and is hopeful of getting those over the line before the big kick-off.
Connor has been in talks with Derry City boss Ruaidhri Higgins and with Finn Harps about potential loan moves while the club is also believed to be interested in bringing former star striker Michael McCrudden back from Cliftonville as the ‘Stute manager prepares to push his shoe-string playing budget to the limit.
Whether 29 year-old McCrudden, who netted 14 goals in 24 games last season, would be interested in dropping back down to the Championship is doubtful and ‘Stute would face stiff opposition from both Glenavon and Dungannon if the Top of the Hill man was to leave Solitude this summer. However, it’s believed Institute are keeping tabs should the player become available and be willing to return to his roots.
Meanwhile, ‘Stute opened their pre-season campaign with a draw against Banbridge Town and wins over Enniskillen Rangers and Ardstraw before securing a 2-2 draw against Belfast Celtic last Saturday. They will now take on Irish Premiership outfits Ballymena United and Cliftonville and Finn Harps over the next fortnight as Connor aims to ‘fine-tune’ his young squad.
The West Belfast man has integrated several of the club’s U20s into his first team squad and has re-signed experienced Irish League players Cormac Burke, Conor Quigley and Aidy McCauley ahead of the new season. Former Cliftonville centre half Caoimhin Bonner has returned while ex-Charlton and Derry City striker Mikhail Kennedy has been training with the club.
Promising Finn Harps underage striker Gabby Aduaka has also come on board.
Connor also revealed he has opened talks with Derry City about the prospect of taking some of the Brandywell club’s youngsters on loan as he plans on putting the final touches to his team in the coming weeks.
“Pre-season has been going really, really well. I’m happy with the turnout,” said Connor. “This year I sat down with our U20s manager and our Head of Academy and we looked at the best young players in that group and brought them up to the first team. They’ve all been training and I’m really delighted with the quality. They’ve acquitted themselves really well.
“We’ve got young Jack Millar, Patrick McLaughlin, CJ Clarke and Niall Fielding who will probably be training with the first team now for the rest of the season. The other boys we’ll keep an eye on and see how they progress. In terms of the senior boys, we’ve got almost everyone back. We’ve signed Gabby Aduaka from Finn Harps U19s and I’m really excited about him. He has lots of energy, good strength and good pace so I think he will cause problems at this level.
“Disappointingly we’ve lost Seamus Sharkey who is now 30. He came to us and had one or two previous injuries and I think he’s just decided that discretion is the better part of valour in this case and called it a day. I’m disappointed because he was probably our most experienced defender so I’m still looking for that left sided defender who can play as well which is a difficult combination to get.
“But on the positive side, Caoimhin Bonner is back after two years out and has fully recovered from his injury and has had his operation which went well. The thing with ‘Skinny’ is that he’s been out of football now for two years so we have to be patient with him and give him plenty of time to get him back to his best.
“We’ve also got Mikhail Kennedy who has joined us in training at the minute. Obviously he’s a while off playing but, again, if we can give him time to get fit, what an asset he’ll be for us at some stage of the season.
“We’re speaking to Derry City about a couple of possible loan signings as well. I’ve spoken to Ruaidhri (Higgins). He knows what positions we’re interested in and there’s one particular player at Derry we’re very interested in. Myself and Ruaidhri will keep talking and hopefully we’ll get that bit of business done as soon as possible.”
So does the Institute boss believe his new-look team will compete for promotion this season?
“Based on the budget we’ve got, we’ve put together the best squad possible. Every time I set a team out I want to win and if we can’t win I don’t want to get beat. That’s the mentality I’m trying to create in the football club.
“There are teams in our league who have far, far superior budgets so it would be naive of us to think we’re just going to romp the Championship. We would like to get back into the Premiership as quickly as possible because for this club to be successful it needs to be in the Premiership.
“The longer you stay in the Championship the harder it becomes to get out because eventually you cut your cloth to that level of football. Already we’re beginning to do that so we’ve got to try and punch above our weight but I think we’ve got a lot of good hungry players which gives us a chance.
“What I would be saying to our fans this year is ‘get behind the team’ but you can’t expect anything. Any point we get will be hard fought.”