Although he played against them quite a few times in his golakeeping days at Inver Park, Larne boss Graham McConnell will enjoy a new experience in football today when he takes his team to face Carrick Rangers - his first game in charge for an East Antrim derby.
It’s definitely a managerial derby debut for Rangers’ Michael Hughes and, despite being in the hot seat twice before, it will also be McConnelll’s bow as manager in the big clash.
“When I was manager of Larne the first time we were in the Premier League and Carrick weren’t and then, when I was back for half a season and both were in the same division we didn’t play Carrick. So it is my first time as boss against our good neighbours,” he figured.
Over the last month the startling contrast in the respective fortunes of the derby rivals has been almost mind-boggling – for both sets of fans!
Larne’s early poor form has turned around with five points from the last nine on offer. Carrick’s blistering form is long gone: they have lost their last four in the league. And the reality is that a win for Larne on Saturday would bring them level on points with Rangers.
While McConnell is delighted his team has finally begun to show what they are made of, he has warned against great expectations for the Taylor’s Avenue clash.
“Form goes out the window in derby games, not least because so many of the players know one another and have previously been team-mates and that’s a special ingredient.
“As for Carrick’s recent poor run, they are a very good side and I know very well that they will soon be out of it. I haven’t been to any of their matches but Terry Phillips, who does the a terrific job on the video of our matches, also does Carrick games and I’ve seen several of their DVDs and it’s very obvious just how well they can play.
“Their manager has had a fantastic playing career at the highest level and he is very strict about how he wants his team to play. He’s more of a purist than I would be and they do play a tremendous style of football and will be very hard to beat.
“But we are now playing with a lot more confidence and we might well have had more points than five from the last three games. On Saturday we were in front three times, but we also trailed 3-2 halfway through the second half and, not very long ago, that third goal from Tobermore would have killed off this team. But they showed terrific character and determination to come back.
“I must pay tribute to the supporters as well because they travelled in such numbers that they outnumbered the home fans at Fortwilliam Park. Again, a few old faces drifted back last weekend and I am sure that trend will continue today.
“My players have responded tremendously well to every challenge over the last few weeks and I want them to do the same again. We moved off the foot of the table and we want the only way to be up, so we will need a result against Carrick.”
He added: “Player-wise, although it’s a thin squad, we have nearly all of them available for the trip to Carrick. We have one notable exception in George Young who, after picking up an injury on Saturday, will be out of action for at least six weeks.”