So here we go again! The 2019/20 season is up and running.
Although this year, more than any other, it felt like football never really stopped. My 2018/19 season may have finished up on 1st June but since then, although I took a self-imposed break from live football, there has been the Nations League, the Under-21 Euros, the Women’s World Cup, the Copa America, the African Cup of Nations, not to mention the ongoing drama of the Spanish lower league playoffs to hold my interest.
But live football time has rolled around again and considering I finished off last season in the Champions League, it’s only right that I started off the new one back there!
From the Wanda to Windsor Park! The competition may be the same, but the difference between the final and the second qualifying round is stark. Even though Rosenborg were comfortable winners on the night, it will be a major surprise if they’re still involved in the Champions League when the group stages start up in September.
For Linfield, despite an impressive debut from French midfielder Bastien Hery, it was an outcome typical of those for Irish League clubs in recent years. Thrust into these games after playing a couple of friendlies, it’s too much of a step up for part-time players, especially given the frequency that Irish league teams tend to be drawn against Scandinavian teams who are not only full-time professionals, but are also already in the middle of their season.
A goal in each half clinched the victory and more or less sealed progression for Rosenborg. Linfield at least have the consolation of dropping into the Europa League, where they’ll hope for an easier draw and the chance of progression which will not only boost them financially, but also boost the Irish League’s flagging coefficient which recently saw Northern Ireland lose one of its three Europa League qualifying places.
Match Cost: £12
Match Rating: 6/10
Forget the Champions League, this is the stuff you really come here to read about…
The greatest challenge of the night was finding Castledawson, which may well the the worst-signposted small town/village anywhere in the world. It didn’t help that it was well over ten years since I’d last been there and this was my first time driving there myself. Luckily I’d left plenty of time for the journey so I was still there early for kick off.
Mill Meadow has undergone a significant transformation since my last visit and is now an extremely modern sports complex but with trees all around, it still retains plenty of the rustic aesthetic. I bet retrieving the balls from the forest is something of a nightmare for the Moyola Park ball boys throughout the season.
On the match itself, Coleraine ran out comfortable winners. A towering header from Gareth McConaghie opened the scoring before James McLaughlin added a brilliant second. Moyola pulled one back before the break but Ian Parkhill added a third for the Bannsiders in the second half. There could have been more goals, Coleraine hit the woodwork no fewer than five times, but it was still a useful workouts they look to find their feet again under the returning Oran Kearney.
Match Cost: £5
Match Rating: 7/10 (for a friendly)
A couple of days later and Coleraine and I were back on the road again, this time for the annual pre-season visit to Limavady.
The Roesiders were briefly a fixture in the Irish Premiership in the mid-2000’s and were often a thorn in Coleraine’s side. These days, they’re preparing for life in the third tier of Northern Irish football, having been relegated at the end of last season.
They started off in a lively fashion, surely keen to impress new manager, former NI international Mark Clyde, but Chris Johns in the Coleraine goal wasn’t overly troubled by anything thrown at him. Coleraine’s greater class began to show and they went in front when James McLaughlin converted Eoin Bradley’s square pass. Bradley thought he’d made it 2-0 soon after, but the flag had already gone up for offside.
After half time (and an excellent first half time burger of the season) Coleraine continued to dominate and eventually made it 2-0 through Bradley’s close-range finish. Despite a couple of injury concerns, it was another useful workout as Coleraine continue to get up to speed.
Match Cost: £5
Match Rating: 5/10 (for a friendly)