They say that no manager outlasts a carpark protest at The Oval. The latest managerial victim being Gary Haveron, the Glentoran board finally bowing to increasing pressure with 16th February’s 2-1 home loss to Ards being the final nail in the coffin. The pressure hasn’t stopped there and Chairman Stephen Henderson will be well aware of the need for a well considered replacement to be made with the East Belfast club becoming somewhat of a managerial merry-go-round over the past decade – previous manager Alan Kernaghan lasting less than a year.
Questions are also being asked of the Glentoran support as the vast majority pushed for change. With the club sitting just inside the top 6 and an Irish Cup Quarter Final to come, taking into account their much decreased financial resources, are expectations too high? Haveron’s defence was to point toward a 9th place finish last season as evidence of the progress being made. Indeed there is something to be said for incremental movements up the table, however, a combination of lacklustre displays and questionable team squad selections left the fans calling for change.
With a credible, short-term option required: cometh the hour, cometh the man – Ronnie McFall made his return to The Oval hotset after 34 years absence. McFall’s spell as a player with Glentoran yielded a league title, two Gold Cups and an Ulster Cup with a further league title, Irish Cup, Gold Cup and three Ulster Cups as a manager in the 80s. After being sacked by Glentoran in December 1984 he went on to have a distinguished 29 year tenure in charge of hometown club Portadown picking up 23 winner’s medals across various competitions.
So, to McFall’s first match back in the dugout. A tricky tie with the visit of consistently inconsistent Cliftonville. The Reds boast a wealth of talent in attack but failed to get off the mark on the day. Ronnie’s Glentoran went back to basics, lining up with an old faithful 4-4-2, Curtis Allen and Robbie McDaid leading the line. Curtis Allen’s second half goal secured the solo goal victory, making up for a missed first half penalty. Ronnie McFall’s post match comments could have been perfectly scripted as he versed out that cliché that he was simply focused on getting off to a winning start.
A new manager almost always produces an instant lift for an ailing team, the test comes in the following fixture as to whether the good times can keep rolling. Roll they did as Warrenpoint came to a cold and blustery East Belfast and were sent back home on the wrong end of a 5-0 drubbing. Curtis Allen bagged himself a brace while Robbie McDaid walked home with the match ball as he sealed a first hat trick since his return to these shores (^note: Do Irish League players actually get to keep a hat trick match ball? Answers on a postcard, please.)
Here we stand on the eve of the Irish Cup Quarter Final* with renewed optimism. Six goals, six points and two clean sheets in his first team games. Already Ronnie’s post 2015 Irish Cup Final diatribe has been forgiven, is he an unlikely messiah for the remainder of this season? A return to the Irish Cup pedestal or a successful late charge for Europe via the league would surely go some way to assuaging the fear among fans of a sense of overall regression at the club. However, East Belfast Glenmen are a group accustomed to their seat at the top table and unrest with the board may continue to grow until serious strides are seen to be made.
As for the long term vision there are a number of options that Glentoran may look to explore. The biggest issue is that Glentoran are no longer a club that can simply pick and choose their next manager, there is a general acceptance that it is a job that is not as coveted as it once may have been and that the list of potential applicants presents a much shorter line than once upon a time. Still, as always social media is rife with opinions and names like Colin Nixon, Paul Leeman, Rodney McAree and even Nacho Novo being sounded – although the Novo option sounds a lot more speculative. Mentions toward a long term deal for Ronnie McFall or another Irish League stalwart Roy Walker (no mention of Mr. Chips at this stage) have always come by. One man that will certainly not be in the running is Matthew Tipton who, following that 5-0 defeat at The Oval, left his position at Warrenpoint Town to take over at his (and McFall’s) former club Portadown in the Championship after Niall Currie was relieved of his duties at the start of the week.
*At the time of writing the Irish Cup fixtures are still scheduled, by the time of publication it is highly likely that the weekend’s fixtures will fall victim to more weather-induced postponements. Time to consider that summer football switch, eh?