‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish’ is a hackneyed showbiz evergreen ditty.
Portadown manager Ronnie McFall hopes it also applies to football, as he starts his league programme tomorrow without five of his stars.
It couldn’t be tougher. The Ports will be without the Famous Five for their opening two matches – real ‘toughies’, with the opener against Linfield and the second against successive champs Cliftonville.
Temporarily missing in action will be last season’s leading goal-getter Darren Murray (23 on target), a trio of central defenders (Garry Breen, Chris Ramsey and Emmett Friars) plus new signing from Linfield Michael Gault.
All are suspended, with a hangover of yellow cards from last year, while Gault has the added complication of recovering from an ankle operation.
Still, the seasoned McFall takes the set-backs in his stride. “You have to face these things in football. We’ll cope. There’s a true spirit in this side – no prima donnas - and the fact that we’ve strengthened the midfield will help us in the long haul this season. There’s a long way to go, and we have the home advantage in the first two games.”
McFall’s ‘in and out’ doors have been busy. Having raided Windsor Park to land the signatures of midfielders Robert Garrett, the aforementioned Gault and striker Mark McAllister, the Ports have added real steel.
Using the exit were Neil McCafferty (to Coleraine) and the talented Kevin Braniff, whose much-publicised row with McFall saw him make the short journey to Glenavon – taking the 20,000-mile there-and-back detour via Melbourne, Australia, where he paraded his skills over the summer. McFall doesn’t mention that particular verbal skirmish.
Add to those machinations, the fact that four or five young home-grown players showed up well in the five close-season friendlies and McFall is bristling with optimism for the nine months ahead.
“We finished a very creditable fourth last season, given the fact that the midfield didn’t really perform,” he said. “The defence is sound, we have Darren and Gary (Twigg) up front and pre-season showed that we mean business.”
Further on the positive side, talented defender Ross Redman – out for the almost the entire 2013-14 term – showed no after-effects in the active friendly programme.
Could the Ports take the title, with all those comings and goings?
Wily McFall makes no bold predictions. But he’s hoping that the final line of that old Music Hall ditty rings true.
It ends – ‘And we’re gonna finish on top…’