Clearance hitch leads to debut delay for new boy Maher

Ballymena United.
Ballymena United.

GLENN Ferguson will have to wait to hand new signing Shaun Maher his Ballymena United debut.

The 34-year-old defender has signed a short-term contract with the Showgrounds club until the end of the season.

But the widely-travelled Irishman will not be able to make his debut in tonight’s rearranged Danske Bank Premiership game at Dungannon Swifts (7.45pm) as his international clearance from the Football Association of Ireland did not come through ahead of yesterday’s (Monday) noon deadline.

The match itself may yet be in doubt, with a second inspection of the Stangmore Park surface due at 4.30pm.

Maher’s unavailability is a blow for Ferguson, who had been left with only one fully-fit recognised centre-back - Chris Rodgers - after a wave of injures to his central defenders.

It is likely that Maher - who has had cross-channel experience with Fulham and Bournemouth as well as spells at a number of League of Ireland clubs - will instead make his debut in Saturday’s league trip to Linfield.

“Shaun brings with him a lot of experience and know-how and that is something we have been looking for in that position.

“Shane Dolan was aware of Shaun from having been involved with him in the training camps the FAI hold for out-of-contract players and we were able to have a chat with him.

“We’ll take a look at him between now and the end of the season and see what happens from there,” added Ferguson.

The arrival of Maher wasn’t the only piece of contract news around the Showgrounds this week, with the manager signing a new deal which will extend his stay at the Showgrounds until the summer of 2016.

Ferguson still had almost 18 months left on the two-and-a-half year he signed when he took over at the Showgrounds at the start of 2012 but club officials have moved quickly to extend his deal after an impressive first year in charge, in which he became the first United manager to win a major trophy for 23 years.

“We’ve been speaking about if for a few weeks and when I spoke to my coaching staff, they were happy to stay as well. We all enjoy the job that we’re doing at Ballymena.

“I’m pleased to be staying because it will bring a bit of continuity.

“We have objectives in both the short and longer term that we want to fulfil and we have already started to identify players that we would like to sign in the summer.”

Ferguson admits that he wasn’t overly disappointed that Friday night’s scheduled league game against Donegal Celtic was called off due to the Showgrounds pitch being waterlogged.

“Generally speaking, you always want to play games but the fact it was called off won’t have done us any harm - players like Shane Dolan, who had been carrying a groin injury, will hopefully feel the benefit of a few extra days’ rest.

“We have a lot of games coming up including two league games this week in which we’re trying to get as many points as possible to try and break into the top six and there’s the Irish Cup game against Coleraine coming up on the horizon, so we want to get as many of our injured players back and match-fit as possible,” added Ferguson.

* Seven Towers Supporters’ Club transport for tonight’s match leaves Henry Street car park at 6.15pm, while the bus for Saturday’s game at Windsor Park leaves from the same location at 1.45pm.