Luke Turner may be heading into the new season with a string of personal accolades under his belt, but the Cliftonville defender has revealed he nearly walked away from football altogether last summer.
Coming from life at Aberdeen following loan spells with Turriff United and Wexford, it was with some hesitation that the Dubliner agreed to another loan move when Paddy McLaughlin’s Reds came calling.
Fast forward 12 months, however, and Turner has firmly established himself as one of the Danske Bank Premiership’s top talents, having scooped Young Player of the Year at the NI Football Awards, gong Ulster Young Footballer of the Year and a similar decoration at the Cliftonville End of Term Awards Ceremony.
It’s fair to say that the prospect of such success was not on the 20-year-old’s horizon when he first landed at Solitude.
“To be honest, I didn’t enjoy my football at all,” said Turner, who signed a new contract with the Reds after leaving Aberdeen at the end of the season.
“I thought maybe I would play three or four games off the bench if I needed to, but I didn’t think I would get much playing time.
“I thought I would quit football around this time last year but look what this club has done for me. Not just the club, the city and the supporters have given me back the joy of playing football and I love everything on this subject.
The obvious affinity he has for Cliftonville was, he says, a key factor in his return to the club this summer.
With Nottingham Forest among those he had slipped onto the radar, Turner made a promise to Solitude goalkeepers that if he returned to the Danske Bank Premiership it would be with the Reds – a statement to which club supporters from north Belfast got used wearily. hear as a precursor to a player inevitably unveiled by a rival a few weeks later.
Turner, however, insists he never intended to go back on his word.
“There was no other club for me in the League,” he said.
“Other clubs offered, but I said straight away I wasn’t interested in joining – the only one I was interested in was Cliftonville.
“It depends on the fans, the club, the project we have going on and I think we can go further and win more trophies in the next two years.”
The former Shamrock Rovers man lifted the BetMcLean League Cup in his first season with the Reds and was part of the side that topped the table during a spell on the final day of a thrilling campaign that ended eventually ended with Cliftonville missing out on the title by a single point.
While Turner’s personal accomplishments were hard to predict, the team’s blistering form also baffled expectations across the board.
“What can you say, I don’t think anyone expected us to have a season like this, but all I think is ‘can we do it again? “, He adds.
“There’s no point in looking back, but it was a great year and everything about this place – the club, the team and the fans – was brilliant.
“It’s over now and we’re just looking forward to trying to get what we didn’t get last season.
“People say we have a chance to win the League, which is madness when you think about the expectations at this time last year.
“We want to be chasing every trophy, including the Irish Cup, although we don’t talk about that here.”
Despite his youth, Turner has already plied his trade at many levels on both sides of the Irish Sea and as such speaks from experience when he says the Premiership provides invaluable experiences for promising talent. .
“They don’t take prisoners in this League and I found that out pretty early on,” he laughs.
“The first game I was in, I think was against Carrick, and they had a six-foot-five centre-back who came in and hit me one immediately.
“It’s not even the best players in the league that it’s good to test yourself against, it’s playing against the teams that play for passion and nothing else – I think it’s one of the best leagues to learn and become a senior player because in a lot of other leagues there’s a lot of tippy-tappy passing the ball around, but here you’re gonna get physical, you’re gonna go back and forth, your possession, everything what you are looking for in a football Game. You have to learn quickly.”
Turner did just that when he quickly established himself in the Cliftonville XI before displaying the consistency that won him a host of accolades when the curtain fell – not that he felt particularly worthy of such acknowledgement.
“I didn’t really think I deserved them, to be honest,” he says.
“I know everyone says it, but those are the rewards of the club and those are the rewards of the team for letting me play and be part of this team. There were other players who could have done it. win – I think Cricky Gallagher was eligible and he would have been a worthy winner.
“Then you have the older guys who were up for some of the other awards but, for me, what I won was a team trophy. It’s not something I did – l team made me win them.