Former Rangers Youths in Irish League

In the last twenty years or so Rangers have had several youth players recruited from Northern Ireland, and of course we currently have Andy Little who moved up from the under 19’s last season and has been playing in the reserves. I thought it would be interesting to look at some of those who are now plying their trade in the Irish League.

Stephen Carson (Coleraine)

stephencarsonStephen Turned down Manchester United to sign for Rangers as a 16 year old in 1997. An impressive performer at youth level he made his first team debut in December 1999, as an extra time substitute in a 1-0 League Cup defeat at Aberdeen.

He then made two further substitute appearances before finally starting in a home game against Dundee in March 2001. Five months later he moved to Dundee United when Alex Smith paid £100,000 + fee to secure his services. In his two seasons at Tannadice he made more substitute appearances than starts and in August 2003 he moved south.

After a trial period Stephen signed a short term deal at Barnsley, he failed to secure a permanent deal and was on the move again in February 2004, this time to Hartlepool. In his short spell at the “Monkey Hangers” he made only one start and two substitute appearances.

The start of 2004-2005 saw him return to the team he supported as a boy, Coleraine. Since then he has been an important part of the Coleraine side and signed a new three year contract in the summer. Many commentators on the Northern Irish scene feel he is perhaps due a call up by Nigel Worthington.

Paul McKnight (Lisburn Distillery)

paul_mcknightPaul signed for Rangers in 1993, despite his time at Ibrox being interupted by periods on the sidelines injured he did make one first team appearance. That came in a league match against Partick Thistle in May 1995.

After a few more years battling for fitness Paul moved to St. Mirren, despite making over 20 appearances he was on the sidelines more often than not, and in 2002 he returned to Northern Ireland and signed for Linfield. After a season at Windsor Park, he returned briefly to St. Mirren, this time only making three appearances in an injury plagued spell.

Next came his two year spell at Glenavon, which in relative terms was injury free, and he played more than 50 games for the Lurgan club. After short spells at both Larne and Newry City Paul signed for Distillery in the summer.

Unfortunately injury has struck again and he has yet to kick a ball in anger at Ballyskeagh. There are now fears that may have to retire from the game. I am sure we all hope he can continue playing and wish him all the best in the future.

Ryan McCann (Lisburn Distillery)

ryan-mccann
Ryan McCann pictured above with Distillery manager Paul Kirk, unlike the other three he didn’t quite make the first team at Ibrox. He was a regular player in the youth team, and the first time I saw him play was against Celtic in an Under 16 game Maryhill Juniors ground.

He returned to play for Linfield, before moving to Distillery in 2005. His brother is of course Scunthorpe United’s Northern Ireland internationalist Grant McCann.

When he was at Rangers there was also a Ryan McCann in the Celtic youth side, I am sure this caused some confusion. In fact I have seen some online publications have the “Rangers” Ryan McCann listed as Scottish.

Darren Fitzgerald (Ards)

darren-fitzgeraldMy first memory of “Mucker” was seeing him score both goals when Northern Ireland beat Scotland in a Victory Shield match. He was even interviewed after that game. As would you would expect as a 15 year old he was a bit over awed being interviewed on live TV. I was absolutely delighted when I heard he had signed for Rangers.

I then watched him over the next few seasons, scoring loads of goals for the Rangers youth teams. This culminated in a single first team appearance against Kilmarnock.

Unfortunately developing and progressing football players is not an exact science. For one reason or another Darren’s prolific record did not translate to reserve or first team level. He left Rangers in 2000, returning to Northern Ireland and signing for Glentoran. He spent three years at The Oval, but a goal ratio of around one in every six games saw him released.

Next port of call was Ards and a change in fortunes, a scoring run better than one every two games reflected the best period in his career. With in Ards in some financial difficulty and his reluctance to take a pay cut, 2005 saw him move to Ballymena.

After a good start at The Showgrounds he suffered a serious cruciate injury and was sidelined for the whole of 2005/06 season. After his injury he struggled to gain a regular place and returned to Ards in May 2008. This season has seen a return to form and he is currently around the 20 goals mark for his club.

Footnote:-

Three of the players, Stephen Carson, Paul McKnight and Ryan McCann made their last appearance for “Rangers” on 10th May 2008. They all appeared in Linfield’s William “Winkie” Murphy’s testimonial, for the Rangers Legends side.

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