'I was ready to pack it in for a year' - McClean galvanised by Glens after Derry City struggles

McClean has impressed since joining Glentoran in the summer
McClean has impressed since joining Glentoran in the summer

Patrick McClean was beginning to think it wasn't his night.

It was a Friday Night Football thriller in the Irish Premiership. Larne and Glentoran were throwing everything at each other in front of a packed-out Inver Park and McClean had a vision of his name splashed across back pages the next morning.

"Going into the stadium I told the boys I would score," he says.

"I would say it before most games in fairness and they were laughing at me saying 'shut up, Patrick.'"

Perhaps McClean felt like he shouldn't have said anything.

On the hour, he unleashed a drilled shot from all of 40 yards. It was top-corner bound and would have been one of the goals of the season had it not been for the flying heroics of Conor Devlin in the Larne goal.

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McClean stunner wins five-goal thriller for Glentoran

McClean's audacious effort prompted a wry smile and a shake of the head from Devlin.

"As soon as it left my foot I thought it was a goal," says McClean.

"I was going towards the bench to celebrate and he pulled it out of the top corner and I thought 'no way'.

"From that corner, I nearly scored a header and I'm thinking 'is it ever going to happen?'

It certainly did happen.

Seven minutes from time, Hrvoje Plum sent a left-footed pass into a crowded Larne penalty area.

Cameron Stewart knocked it into the danger area, where McClean met it with his chest.

The ball bounced too high to attempt a volley so the 22-year-old improvised. Adjusting his feet quickly, he executed his overhead kick perfectly, hit the floor and turned around just in time to see it fly past Devlin and send the travelling Glentoran supporters behind the goal into delirium.

"It was unbelievable," says McClean, recalling the ensuing chaotic celebrations.

"To be honest, by the end of the celebration I couldn't even breathe, there were people jumping on me and shouting at me and I thought 'right boys, get off me now - let's get back into it and get this game over.'"

McClean celebrates scoring the winner against Larne
McClean celebrates scoring the winner against Larne

"We've got McClean, Paddy McClean," came the roar from the Glens fans.

The rain cascaded from the sky that night. It was relentless, almost biblical at times, but nothing could dampen the spirits of the Glentoran faithful.

McClean felt like a million bucks, too. It was the perfect end to a day that started with the announcement that he had signed a two-year contract extension keeping him at The Oval until the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

He's only been at Glentoran three months but he's already a hero.

"I didn't even want to go to training"

But this year hasn't always been plain sailing for the centre-back.

His return to Derry City led to heartache and a lot of soul-searching.

In January, McClean was unveiled alongside Ciaron Harkin and David Parkhouse in an eye-catching triple swoop for the Brandywell outfit.

Having had spells at Waterford and Sligo Rovers he was delighted to return to his hometown club two years after his departure.

Six months on, however, he found himself without a club.

Injury derailed McClean's second spell at Derry City
Injury derailed McClean's second spell at Derry City

After a good start to the season McClean sustained a grade 3 tear on his quad, which derailed his Derry comeback.

"Well, they were [a club close to my heart]," he said.

"I got injured and I was rushed back, but then I broke down and was injured again.

"Obviously I wasn't going to be playing for a while so I felt like I was going about every day doing my rehab, and didn't feel part of the club.

"I had a grade 3 tear and then we found a growth on my bone, which could have been causing the tear.

"Every time I struck a ball I was getting injured. I was out in total for about three months.

The world can be a lonely place for an injured footballer and McClean certainly found himself falling out of love with it.

"There were days when I was waking up and didn't even want to go to training," he said.

"Growing up, wanting to be a footballer all my life, it shows you the massive impact it had on me.

"There were a few things going on off the field, too, so it felt like everything was closing in on me. I just felt like I needed to get out and get away.

McClean wanted to take a year out of football after leaving Derry City
McClean wanted to take a year out of football after leaving Derry City

"I went in and spoke to Declan Devine [Derry City manager] and he gave me a two-week break, but after the two weeks I didn't even go back, I just went in and signed my release forms and that was it. The way I left wasn't ideal."

After a rough few months, McClean admits he considered taking a year out from football, only for his brother, Republic of Ireland and Stoke City midfielder James, to help him see the potential downside to such a drastic decision.

"I was texting my brother saying I was ready to take a year out and just clear my head for a bit.

"He told me he'd support me no matter what, but that I needed to understand that I might not get back to the level I'm playing at.

"I had my mind made up - I was going to pack it in for a year and see, but then the more I talked to him, he said everything was going to be OK. Thankfully I didn't."

Adapting to 'physical' Irish Premiership

But a few months on, an impressive run in the Glentoran team has undoubtedly rekindled his love for the game.

Under Mick McDermott's management, the east Belfast club are currently undergoing an ambitious rebuild, of which McClean is an important figure on the pitch.

Alongside a raft of his fellow summer recruits, McClean has helped put the Glens on an upward trajectory.

They're well on course to surpass last season's haul of 49 points while they have progressed to the County Antrim Shield semi-finals.

McClean has slotted seamlessly into the Irish Premiership but it has not been without its wake-up calls.

Having been struck at the intensity of Cliftonville's training sessions during the week he spent with the Reds prior to signing for Glentoran, McClean admits the Irish Premiership is much faster and more physical than the League of Ireland.

"In the League of Ireland, it's more technical, you can get the ball and break teams down.

"Here it's a lot more physical. I was joking the other day, when I was training with Cliftonville I got the ball, looked up and there were four boys running at me and I thought 'wow, I'm not used to this'.

"You have to adapt to it. It's night and day in my opinion between the two leagues.

"I used to think that if you're looking to progress in your career you should stay in the League of Ireland, but since I've been here, it's been an eye-opener. There are some good players in this league. I like it"

McClean has really embraced his new surroundings in Belfast. When he lived in Waterford and Sligo he felt homesick all the time, but has settled in quickly after leaving Derry.

It's not hard to tell, either.

After a couple of match-winning performances (he also headed winner against Warrenpoint Town), he's become a Glens favourite.

It's still early days, but should he continue in the same vein, he may find himself in Belfast far beyond the duration of his contract.

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