Ballyclare Comrades this week completed the signing of experienced defender Jonny Harkness.
The former Linfield and Coleraine man spent last season with Lisburn Distillery and has enjoyed spells in England with Walsall and Cambridge United.
He made 63 appearances for Kidderminster Harriers between 2006 and 2008, scoring six goals for the club. In the summer of 2010 he signed for the Bannsiders before making the switch to Suffolk Road to link up with Donegal Celtic the following season.
At the tender age of 27, the newly-promoted Dixon Park outfit have snapped up a player who still has a lot left in the tank.
“Hopefully he will bring a lot of experience to the squad,” said the Reds’ assistant-manager, Gary Bell. “He has played across the water and when he came back home he played for one of the best teams in Northern Ireland - Linfield. We are looking forward to seeing what he is going to offer - on and off the pitch.”
But Bell warned that there will be no special treatment for Harkness because of his footballing CV. “He will be like any other player at the club: he will have to play for his position. Just because he has been at bigger clubs doesn’t mean he is going to be gauranteed a place every week. He is going to bring stiff competition like the rest of the signings we have acquired over the summer, but it’s not really about Jonny Harkness, it’s about Ballyclare Comrades; that’s being totally honest.”
This season Ballyclare are back in Championship 1, where many believe they belong. The club will, first and foremost, be aiming to consolidate their position in the second tier of the Irish League, but Bell is hoping for a little bit more than that.
“Our plan is to look after ourselves and take it from there. Ballyclare is a team that should be in that league. We shouldn’t have been down in Championship 2, but we were there because we weren’t good enough at that stage. We should be in Championship 1 and we should be looking at the top six but whatever comes of this season comes of it. Hopefully, we can hold our own and do what Dundela did last year when they came up. They held out well and finished well at the end of the campaign. If we have a season like they did, we will be more than happy.”
Bell also confirmed that Harkness has been signed on a one-year deal. “It’s just like the majority of Championship 1 teams; he has signed up for the year. Hopefully he enjoys it and commits for a another 12 months. If he gets back to playing and to loving what he is doing we hope we can get another year out of him, but we will make the most of him.”
With pre-season in full swing, Bell revealed the mood in the Comrades’ camp is upbeat. “It’s great; it really has been fantastic. Last year we maybe didn’t have as many people and as many places to be developing that sense of competition within the squad, but we have addressed that over the summer. We now have a set-up where we know people won’t go stale, thinking the position is their own. We have competition all over the park now and the boys have been putting in the effort in the last few weeks that we have been in training. They have been first-class. They have come back fitter than they were when we wrapped up at the end of the last campaign.
“They are raring to go and we are back where Ballyclare should be. They all know that, and they are looking to better themselves this year again. Hopefully we put points on the board nice and early and take it from there.”