Albert Watson knew Kofi Balmer was special talent from first view
Albert Watson was watching as a supporter from the stands when he first spotted the potential of Kofi Balmer - a belief only strengthened since going on to share a pitch and training ground with the bright young talent.
Now current team-mates as part of the backline options behind Larne’s unbeaten start to the Premiership season, Watson was home around 2017 following his time in Canada when he went to watch former club Ballymena and a teenage Balmer.
Balmer’s subsequent rise since a breakthrough campaign has led to the armband for Northern Ireland under 21s and a summer switch from Ballymena to flourish under Larne’s full-time environment.
The defender’s successful transition was further confirmed with a midweek brace of goals for Larne in League Cup success and he will be aiming to add to his growing reputation with another assured display today against the physical challenge of a trip to Crusaders.
Watson also burst on to the Irish League scene as a 16-year-old with Ballymena - before trophy success at Linfield and spells in Canada and Iceland - and he is happy to offer any helping hand possible to aid Balmer’s bid for continued career progress.
“I can remember going to watch Ballymena and being told about Kofi, who was probably 16 or 17 years old at the time,” said Watson. “He reminded me a bit of myself I guess in terms of playing regularly at a young age with Ballymena.
“When I had a brief spell back at Ballymena before signing for Larne it was during a period Kofi was injured but I got to play alongside him a bit and obviously we would train together.
“I always knew he was a top, top player and he certainly has the tools to push on.
“I kept in touch with Kofi and would send him the odd message.
“Now we are both at Larne I’m delighted to help in any way I can and we would often stay back together after training and work on a few things.
“You can see him grow with more and more experience but I enjoy passing on tips I’ve picked up along the way, plus at Larne with people like Jeff Hughes the younger lads will never be short of someone to turn to for advice.
“When I was a young player at Ballymena I remember looking around and thinking about the talent and know-how of older players like Gary Smyth and Alfie Stewart, or even Winkie Murphy at Linfield.
“People are so quick to write players off once they hit 30 but experience is invaluable and someone like Kofi is so hungry to learn and work hard.
“Although we put a lot of value into making everyone feel welcome at Larne given so many different backgrounds, Kofi has certainly settled in well at the club and bought into the culture.
“He is brilliant in the changing room and he will only get better and better thanks to full-time football.”
Larne visit the Crues aiming to build on a perfect points return but with acceptance performance levels on the pitch remain short of expected standards.
“There are high expectations but that’s what we want - I think even in the games so far against Coleraine, Portadown and Warrenpoint we’ve won but been aware there’s more to come,” said Watson. “Plus we dropped points to each of those sides last season...so it’s hopefully a sign of growth.
“We’ve made signings designed to improve certain areas and in every game we must go out and prove we will not be bullied and are stronger collectively now.”
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