There’s never been an Irish League transfer window like the one fans have just witnessed. And central to most of the big moves has been resurgent Glentoran.
Of course it helps to have fresh investment on board, just ask Larne. Or European money available; Crusaders, Linfield and Cliftonville, but apart from player salaries, as Glentoran transform to a new full-time model, they haven’t exactly splashed the cash... just yet.
Even with the influx of players, the McDermott/Miller management axis has had to abide by FIFA’s Financial Fair Play Rules, a restrictive challenge in itself given the previous parlous state of the famous old east Belfast club’s finances.
But it’s been difficult lately to pick up a paper or dabble on social media without reading about Glentoran’s latest new signing. It’s been dramatic with the Oval’s Arrivals Hall challenging that of the nearby airport.
In have come Keith Cowan (Finn Harps), Ciaran O’Conor (Warrenpoint Town), Caolan Marron and Andrew Mitchell (both Glenavon), Seanan Clucas (Dungannon Swifts), Rory Donnelly (Cliftonville) and Deivydas Matulevicius (Kauno Zalgiris).
But it’s not all been one-way traffic, indeed the wheeling and dealing of management team Mick McDermott and Paul Millar is enough to make an enthusiastic Harry Redknapp as green as the hoops on the Glentoran shirt.
Maybe not so prominent, but still significant, is the hive of activity in the Departures Area too, rendering many local fans’ astonishment at the perceived size of Glentoran’s playing squad somewhat of an illusion. Actually, the Oval has really become more of a revolving door.
McDermott and Millar have still had to balance the books, resulting in the same number of players leaving the club as joining: Curtis Allen (Coleraine) Darren Murray (Carrick Rangers), John Heron (Larne), Callum Birney (Glenavon), Ross Redman (Dungannon Swifts), Tom Byrne and Antoino Duric (both released).
Not only that with each of Hrvoje Plum and Cameron Stewart unavailable now for several months and weeks respectively, Glentoran’s playing squad is actually a couple of players short from where it was in November.
So if anything, it’s less a case of Glentoran buying anything that moves and more one of balancing books, squad and competitiveness at the top of the Irish League Premier Division.
The McDermott/Millar double act appear to have stolen a march on their title rivals. Certainly they’ve upped the ante through good, early and effective planning, and all that takes hard work and tireless preparation. Even then best laid plans can go wrong. Adam Leckey for instance remained an elusive target. So Plan B kicked in and along came Deivydas Matulevicius.
No matter the conditions around the Oval revival, turning playing staff over at a rate of 7 in and 7 out across December and January takes some doing. It both serves as testimony to the drive and commitment behind the new ownership, and adds credibility to the fans’ popular and topical hashtag #TimeToClimb.
Glentoran haven’t won anything yet. But they’ve certainly set tongues wagging, and despite all the transfer activity there are no guarantees.
The plethora of changes if not managed properly or skilfully could yet upset the applecart, put a kink in the progress witnessed so far. That’s the challenge now for McDermott and Miller. They’ve firmly put their stamp on the squad, so it’s a matter of getting down to honing a more talented group and winning enough games to at least secure European qualification.
Should they succeed, then truly they can say hard work, graft and not just a little intelligence have placed Glentoran Football Club ahead of schedule in its quest to return to the summit of Irish League football.