Luke Turner may be heading into the new season with a lot of personal accolades under his belt, but the Cliftonville defenseman revealed he almost retired last summer.
Fascinated by life at Aberdeen after loan spells at Terriff United and Wexford, the Dubliner agreed to another loan spell with some hesitation when Paddy McLaughlin’s Reds called.
However, after 12 months, Turner has firmly established himself as one of the top talents in the Danske Bank Premier League, earning the Young Player of the Year award at the NI Football Awards, the Ulster Young Footballer of the Year award and the NI Football Young Player of the Year award. Ulster”. a similar decoration at their own end-of-semester awards ceremony in Cliftonville.
To be fair, the prospect of such recognition was not on the horizon for the 20-year-old when he first landed in Solitude.
“To be honest, I didn’t enjoy football at all,” says Turner, who signed a new deal with the Reds after leaving Aberdeen at the end of the season.
“I thought I’d play three or four games off the bench if I had to, but I didn’t think I’d get a lot of playing time.
“Last year I thought about leaving football, but look what this club has done for me. Not only the club but the city and the fans made me enjoy football again and I love everything about it.”
The apparent affection he has for Cliftonville has been, he says, a key factor in his return to the club this summer.
As Nottingham Forest were among those on whose radar he had crept in, Turner made a promise to the Solitude guardians that if he returned to Danske Bank’s premiership it would be with the Reds, a statement that the north Belfast club’s supporters were tired of getting used to. rumor as a harbinger that the player would inevitably be introduced by a rival in just a few weeks.
Turner, however, insists he never intended to go back on his word.
“There was no other club in the League for me,” he says.
“Other clubs offered, but I immediately said that I was not interested in joining – I was only interested in Cliftonville.
“It depends on the fans, the club, the project that we have and I really think we can go further and win more trophies over the next few years.”
The former Shamrock Rovers player won the BetMcLean League Cup during his first season with the Reds and was part of a team that briefly topped the table on the final day of an exciting campaign that ultimately ended with Cliftonville missing out on the title from -for a single point.
If Turner’s personal accomplishments were hard to predict, the team’s meteoric form also failed to live up to expectations across the board.
“What can you say, I don’t think anyone expected us to have a season like this, but I only think about whether we can do it again?” he adds.
“There is 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.
“However, 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 and it’s crazy when you think about the expectations this time around last year.
“We want to be in pursuit of every trophy, including the Irish Cup, even if we don’t talk about it here.”
Despite his youth, Turner has already handled his trade at many levels on both sides of the Irish Sea and thus draws on his own experience when he says the Premier League provides invaluable experience for up-and-coming talent.
“The League doesn’t take prisoners, and I figured 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 center back who hit me right away.
“It’s not even the best players in the league that are great to test yourself with, but to play against teams that play with passion and nothing else – I think this is one of the best leagues to learn and become a senior player because in many other leagues, there are many cool passes of the ball, but here you are going to get physical, you will get back and forth, your possession of the ball, everything you are looking for in a football game. You have to learn fast.”
Turner did just that when he quickly established himself in the Cliftonville XI before demonstrating a consistency that earned him multiple awards when the curtain came down – not that he felt particularly deserving of such recognition.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I deserved them,” he says.
“I know everyone says that, but these are club and team awards for allowing me to play and be part of this team. There were other players who could have won it – I think Cricky Gallagher was eligible for that and he would have been a worthy winner.
“Then you have older guys who have competed for some other awards, but for me what I won was a team trophy. I didn’t do anything – the team made me win them.”