Niall Currie has revealed how he told his players club officials had agreed a contract extension - three weeks before Saturday’s decision to sack him as Portadown manager.
Currie was dismissed from the Ports post minutes after the final whistle of the weekend 0-0 draw at home to Harland and Wolff Welders.
Those shared spoils left Portadown seven points outside the promotion play-off positions in the Bluefin Sport Championship entering the final seven fixtures of a disjointed league campaign.
Currie, a four-time title winner of the Irish League second-tier prize with Loughgall and Ards, admits surprise at the brief post-match chat with club chairman Ronnie Stinson in which he was informed of the directors’ decision to replace the Portadown-born boss after 14 months.
“I could have understood it coming a few months ago during our terrible run but the decision to sack me came with two defeats in 14 league games,” said Currie, who left Ards in December 2016 for what he described as his “dream job”. “It is disappointing as three weeks ago before we played Larne I shook hands with officials on a 12-month contract extension.
“I told my players I had been given a contract extension at Portadown.
“But I think everything changed after our 1-0 defeat away to Ballyclare Comrades as I was then told last Monday that the Welders game was a must-win match.
“I still did not think after the final whistle on Saturday that was the end and was probably surprised to see the chairman waiting for me.
“But I do not want to sound bitter and am still a Portadown supporter who only wants to see the club do well.
“I put everything into being that man to bring my hometown club back to greatness and the fact it did not happen is extremely disappointing.”
Club officials recall the conversation before the Larne match as a discussion to “review it in two or three games” in relation to the option of a 12-month contract extension agreed during Currie’s initial negotiations to join Portadown.
Currie spent the summer rebuilding a Ports squad reeling from relegation out of the Danske Bank Premiership and a period under the cloud of disciplinary problems due to financial issues.
“When I came into the club it needed a complete rebuild coming into this season and it is not an excuse but a reality that so many players take time to gel,” said Currie. “My biggest frustration is that we had been struggling for some weeks with limited attacking options due to injuries, which had been a problem for much of the season.
“I think the fact we had to throw a defender in Ross Larkin up top for the closing stages of the Ballyclare Comrades game tells a tale and even on Saturday against the Welders our ability to change it was restricted.
“I think the timing is a disappointment because over the next few weeks we will see players like Jamie Douglas and Stefan Lavery return to the side and they can make a big difference.
“The gap between us and third is nothing in this league and results over any given weekend can completely change the picture.
“I still feel that squad can get into the promotion play-offs.
“I think on Saturday we had a lot of effort and commitment with a solid defensive performance and everything showing the foundation was in place but lacking that edge in the last third, which will improve over the next few games with players returning.”
Currie points to the pressure of Portadown’s status as an established Premiership club operating at Championship level as key to early-season struggles which proved decisive in efforts to build momentum.
“I will hold up my hands too and we certainly had too many draws or games in which we dropped points,” said Currie. “We are currently not too far away but those defeats early in the campaign left us too often with an uphill battle.
“The pressure at a club of Portadown’s size is to win every match and this season every dropped point felt like a disaster.
“I can understand that but we were also working with a completely new squad from scratch basically and this remains a tough league.
“When I was relegated with Ards we only managed to finish third the next season.
“I look back and can think of only really Newry City as a comprehensive defeat and most other games came down to fine margins or small moments.
“You could see the work put in on the training ground had helped solve our weakness from set-pieces and I think that run across the past few months showed things were coming together.
“A run of two defeats in 14 games would be considered fantastic for most Championship clubs but the expectations are different at Portadown.”
Currie arrived at Shamrock Park with a track record of multiple signings but a proven medal collections to support his methods.
“We made quality signings but I do feel let down by some of the players as we provided a wonderful opportunity to play for a massive club,” said Currie. “We also had some really, really good lads of course and I feel we managed to strengthen the squad in January with players who will prove that quality over the rest of the season.
“I am considered a manager who does not give youth a chance but take great pride in knowing the future of the club is secure in terms of players like Luke Wilson, Lee Upton, Ryan Carmichael, Jackson Holmes and Ross Larkin all signed up.
“I look forward to coming back as a fan down the line and watching from the stands as those young lads play for Portadown for years to come, knowing I played my part.”
Currie will now turn his focus towards securing a fifth Irish League management role and retains his love of the game despite the recent pain.
“To go 13 years into a career in management and only have been sacked once shows something I feel, so certainly I want to get back into the game as quickly as possible,” said Currie. “I am disappointed and frustrated of course but also proud and privileged to have been manager of my hometown club.
“I also want to thank the supporters and it means so much to have had the texts, calls and messages over social media.
“For someone who was not meant to have the fans on his side according to some, it was touching to have hundreds and hundreds of messages of support since Saturday.
“At 45 years old I still have that determination to progress and will learn from the Portadown experience.
“It has been a tough time but I think I have plenty more to give and do not feel jaded but ready to go.”