Ryan Harpur is hoping that his experience can help guide Annagh United to the top flight for the first time in the club’s history.
Ciaran McGurgan’s side are flying high in the Lough 41 Championship as they are level on points with Ballinamallard United in second-place.
Harpur made the switch to United in the summer and admits he dropped down a division to ensure more game time as he enters the twilight stages of his career.
“I grew up opposite Annagh United’s pitch so I have a lot of affiliation with the club,” he said.
“I’m 34 this year and I probably have two more years left in me so I want to play as many games as I can.
“I could have stayed in the Premiership after leaving Ballymena United but I don’t think I would have played as many games.
“I’m enjoying my time here, we are doing well and punching above our weight if I’m being honest.
“Alongside Niall Henderson and Stephen Murray, we are the most experienced players but we have such a young but talented squad.
“We aren’t looking too far ahead in terms of a league finish but it would be great to secure a promotion play-off spot.”
Harpur’s football career started at Lisburn Youth before he quickly caught the eye of several cross channel clubs.
In the end, he made the decision to join Everton where he would spend four years at Goodison Park.
“I started playing at Lisburn Youth at the age of 11 and suddenly was going on trials to clubs across the water,” he added.
“I spent time at Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City but didn’t enjoy it, so I narrowed my options down to Middlesbrough and Everton.
“I decided to sign for Everton when I was 14-years-old before moving over two years later.
“I was there for four years when the club had the likes of Mikel Arteta, Yakubu and Thomas Gravesen in the first-team squad.
“In my youth team I was playing with Victor Anichebe, James Vaughan and Jack Rodwell who all appeared and scored in the Premier League.
“In my third year, I was training regularly with the first-team and played in a friendly against a Northern Ireland Select team at the Coleraine Showgrounds.
“I remember during my final season I was called down to go and train with the first-team squad and I broke my elbow on the Friday and I was told off the record that I was due to travel to Watford to be in the squad.
“It’s just disappointing that I never broke through but I have no regrets.”
Despite coming home and training with Portadown in 2009, Harpur would sign for Mid-Ulster rivals Glenavon and spend two-and-a-half years at Mourneview Park.
“I was at Bristol Rovers for a trial and broke a bone in my shin which ended my chance of a deal,” he recalled.
“I was training with Portadown but they were relegated to the Championship and I didn’t want to play at that level after just coming back from England.
“Stevie McBride wanted me to sign at Glenavon and I did.
“To be honest, I wasn’t a big follower of Irish League football when I was younger so I didn’t get too much stick from my friends who are Portadown fans.”
A move to Dungannon Swifts would provide Harpur with his longest stay at a club as he spent seven years at Stangmore Park.
A career highlight would be achieved as he helped the Swifts lift their first ever senior trophy in 2018.
“My time at Dungannon was great, I loved it and it was the spell I had during my career,” he stated.
“It was a tight knit group of friends who all went out together and we really enjoyed playing under Rodney McAree.
“There are times we could have done better and maybe got into the top six but we were always competitive.
“Lifting the League Cup was a surreal moment as we beat Crusaders in the semi-final and then comfortably won the final against Ballymena United.
“That achievement meant so much for us and the squad on that day often meet up for a reunion when we can.”
As the saying goes, ‘all good things must come to an end’ and Harpur would depart the Swifts as Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey came calling in January 2019.
“Throughout my time at Dungannon, I had a few chances to leave but I always wanted to play football and I enjoyed being at the club,” he continued.
“However, there is a bit of a regret there as Crusaders were one of those clubs who were interested and successful and I often wonder ‘what if?’
“Ballymena expressed an interest in signing me and I was 29-years-old, Rodney had left for Coleraine and I just felt it was the right time to move as they were top of the league.
“I always admired David’s professionalism and a will to win but I could never get fit and I was always injured.
“I just don’t know what went wrong as I would be back for a game and then ruled out for the next five or six.
“I was released at the end of last season and Ciaran spoke to me about signing for Annagh and it’s been brilliant so far.”