‘Nuggets’ and ‘clever’ recruitment all part of Portadown link with Burnley
Matthew Tipton, having enjoyed a career in professional football thanks to his striker’s instinct inside the penalty area, is now thinking outside the box as manager in a bid to rebuild Portadown as an Irish League force.
And a friendship established during his time scoring goals in England has now, decades later, helped develop into Portadown serving as one of four ‘strategic partnerships’ with Premier League club Burnley.
Tipton was a guest at Turf Moor yesterday to help launch the Burnley project, discuss face-to-face the ambitious plans and watch the side’s meeting with Liverpool.
And Tipton will not be the last Portadown representative making the trip from Northern Ireland to England thanks to the connection now confirmed with the Ports, Cobh Ramblers (Republic of Ireland), Ayr United (Scotland) and Llandudno (Wales).
“We have to be clever in our thinking in terms of recruitment,” said Tipton, who celebrated Championship success last season and is preparing for a summer recruitment push designed to enhance Premiership progress. “We see an Irish League market so condensed with 12 Premiership clubs and players moving around within the same sides...so we have to think outside of that.
“The benefits for Portadown by coming on board with Burnley will be massive - not just through the football side but the off-field package in terms of shared resources, sports science and youth coaching education.
“I’m now full-time as Portadown manager and want to drive the club forward to be the best it can be and get us back to what it has been in Irish League football.
“We had tough three years in the Championship but, now out of it and back in the top flight, can see small steps of progress on the pitch this season.
“Now, over the next number of years, we want to be really pushing the club back again into the top echelons of the Irish League.
“The link with Burnley has been something in the pipeline for a long time.
“Matt Williams, the Burnley chief operating officer, is someone I’ve known for over 20 years since my time at Oldham and we just always stayed in touch.
“In conversations we would talk about how the world is getting smaller in many ways and having connections between different clubs can only help everyone.
“That doesn’t mean Burnley will just stockpile our squad with players on loan but we would hope to get one or two.
“Also, other players might come on the radar for Burnley not quite ready for the club who could come over to us and benefit from the Irish League and first-team level with Portadown.
“If we can get sent one or two nuggets that way too then it would be brilliant, when players can benefit for a year or two here at a strong level.
“Burnley have also entered into a partnership with a programme called AiSCOUT which looks fantastic and is a process for players to upload videos.
“I appreciate and understand when fans turn up on a Saturday they maybe only really care about what happens on a Saturday.
“But to get to the level we want as a club it’s a long-term process.
“Building relationships with a Premier League club like Burnley can only help us progress, work for both clubs and something from which we can get a lot of success.”
To celebrate the launch, Burnley highlighted the desire to “expand its reach to all four corners of the British Isles” securing the Clarets “a footprint across the UK and Ireland”.
“The partner clubs will benefit from Burnley’s football expertise in development and education of their coaches and players, sharing of data across youth academies and sport science and access to tools such as AiSCOUT,” continued the Burnley statement. “In return Burnley will widen its scouting network for talent identification in the partner clubs’ region, with the most talented young players from each club travelling regularly to Burnley for football camps and assessment when identified.
“All clubs’ academies and women’s teams will compete in a summer pre-season games and tournaments, while loan deals for Burnley’s academy players to gain experience at senior levels will also be considered.”
Dane McCullough left Portadown last year to join Burnley, with the Clarets recently inviting Shamrock Park first-team players Lee Bonis and George Tipton over on trial.
“Part of the attraction I’m sure for Burnley in linking up with Portadown was our youth work,” said Tipton. “Dane left Portadown to join Burnley last year and has done really well.
“Two of our current first-team players, Lee and George, spent time in the past fortnight training with Burnley.
“Dane has done so well and we are delighted.
“He is a kid who was with Portadown from the age of four or five so to see Dane step up to be on the bench for the under 23s recently is brilliant.
“For our young players they can also see a pathway and our strong relationship with Burnley.
“On the other side for players, knowing if it may not quite work out then there is always a pathway back to Portadown.
“Lee and George both came back from Burnley and played for Portadown in a league game last weekend - Lee scored and George did well.
“Both really enjoyed the time over at Burnley.
“Lee came to us two years ago from Mid-Ulster level, which is pretty much Sunday League football in England.
“He had been with us as a youth player up to the age of 16 then, as happens in football, drifted away for whatever reason.
“But he scored 50 goals at Mid-Ulster level and Neil McCullough, who is Dane’s father and our current Head of Recruitment but back then manager of Portadown under 20s, talked to me about Lee.
“Neil was probably thinking at the time Lee would be involved with the under 20s but after about 15 minutes of watching him in training I took him for the firsts.
“He hit the ground running and scored 17 goals last season in the Championship over 21 games and is currently on 14 for this campaign.
“He has played for Northern Ireland under 21s and all of that has come within just over 18 months, a fantastic rise since he came to the club.
“Burnley understand and can see we have many more young players coming through our club, some playing first-team football at 15 or 16 years old.
“In terms of our youth strategy and what Burnley have seen us do, it can be of benefit.
“It also opens up doors for Burnley in Northern Ireland, even in terms of potentially adding to the fanbase as another bonus.”
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