'They've growled at me from day one' - McDermott comfortable with Glentoran expectancy

By Mark SterlingBBC Sport NI
Glentoran manager Mick McDermott
McDermott was Carlos Queiroz's assistant coach with the Iran national team at the 2018 World Cup

"I didn't come to try and change football here, but I wasn't going to let football here change me."

From the minute he arrived in east Belfast as Glentoran manager - and director, as part of Ali Pour's £1 million investment in the club - Mick McDermott has never been backward in coming forward.

'Mick who?' may have been the response of many Irish League supporters when he was appointed in March 2019, but the Belfast native sensed Northern Ireland's top flight could benefit from insights he'd gleaned from various coaching and managerial roles in the USA, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

With a desire for summer football and the need to improve facilities among the issues he has opined on most fervently, the partisan nature of the Irish League fanbase makes it almost inevitable that not everyone will agree with his views.

On the eve of his third full Premiership season in charge, however, McDermott, whose side open away to Dungannon Swifts on Saturday, seems comfortable with his place in the Northern Ireland football landscape. Indeed, he admits to enjoying everything that makes the Irish League what it is.

"I was away for 26 years, I'd like to think I saw some things that work," he reflected ahead of a trip to the ground where it all started for him as the Glens boss.

"This is not to say that I know more than anyone, but because I have been away I have seen some different things to many people here who have always worked in and around the league.

"I know sometimes I come across as 'oh, he's said this again' but that's just me talking from where I have been and what I have seen. I have seen cultures try things that did work and some that didn't work.

"That is where my comments come from, not just some idea that I wake up with in the morning that comes across as 'oh, here Mick goes again'. No, I am here to try and improve Glentoran and if that improves the rest of the league, then brilliant."

'Who are these people? What are they going to do?'

Shay McCartan
McCartan was one of the Irish Premiership's best players last season after joining Ballymena United in the summer of 2020

The financial outlay at Glentoran since the takeover by businessman Pour's consortium has been on a scale seldom seen in the Irish League before.

An already eye-catching and high-spending transfer policy was cranked up even further this summer with the purchase of former Northern Ireland forward Shay McCartan from Ballymena United for what was believed to be a record transfer fee for the league.

Having finished third last season after an indifferent start, McDermott fully understands the expectancy of Glenmen for him to deliver what would be a first Premiership title in 13 years.

"The expectations are raised at Glentoran but they were raised the second Paul Millar [McDermott's assistant] and I walked out at Stangmore Park for our first game two years ago," he observed.

"We had people growling at us, looking at us, saying 'who are these people? What are they going to do?'

"This year we have had to strengthen again. We can't wait five or six years to build this so we have pushed it along. We always said we would invest in players first and we have done that."

McDermott, who this week welcomed a £250,000 sponsorship deal that will see the club's stadium renamed the BetMcLean Oval, was also keen to emphasise the off-field investment - and the return the club is seeing on this.

"Our facilities at the Oval have been upgraded and our community outreach programmes are massive, while our season ticket sales are at the highest level they've ever been for the coming season.

"Are we at the end of the journey yet? No, because people will say that until you win something major - which would be the title - Glentoran would never be happy, the fans would not be happy."

'One team should be favourites and that's Linfield'

Linfield's title win in May was the 55th in the club's history
Linfield's title win in May was the 55th in the club's history

Glentoran switched to a full-time regime soon after McDermott's arrival, a move which transformed the dynamic of the club and the calibre of player they could attract.

Larne were already full time, while Crusaders had introduced a hybrid full-time model in 2018, and this season has seen champions Linfield make the transition to a full-time operation.

David Healy's men are aiming to win the Gibson Cup for a fourth consecutive campaign and, when asked if this is the season Glentoran can win a first title in 13 years, it was to their cross-city rivals that McDermott's thoughts turned.

"At the start of any season there are always four or five clubs that will feel they have a shot, and we are one of them," he said.

"But look at it objectively. Who did the Double last year? Who probably has had the biggest budget in the league for 20 years? Who has the structures in place? If you look at it objectively there is one team in the league that should be the favourite and that is probably Linfield.

"I believe they are the bookmakers' favourite to win the league and that is for a reason. We are probably up there with those clubs that feel they have a chance. We know that if we perform the way we can then we will be in the running. It is hard to win a league in any country. Where you end up, you end up. "

Indeed. Where Glentoran do end up will certainly prove to be one of the most interesting plots in the 2021-22 Irish Premiership story.

Top Stories

Also in NI Sport