IRISH LEAGUE OPINION: A case of risk and reward for Ports

Shamrock Park.
Shamrock Park.
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Analysis of the situation for the Shamrock Park club by Johnston Press senior sports reporter Patrick Van Dort.

Pat McGibbon effectively confirmed the end of two high-profile Portadown careers late last week with a reference to players “not buying into the philosophy”.

The announcement - brief in detail but heavy in significance - signalled the decision by McGibbon, with the full backing of the directors, to place Mark McAllister and Sean Mackle on the transfer list ahead of the January window.

McGibbon refused to expand on the record on any reasons for the biggest call of his short career as Shamrock Park boss, other than the view of “what I consider the best interests of the team and club”.

McAllister felt the inference he could be cast as having a negative influence on the senior squad as “an insult” and a claim he was confident “anyone who knows me would say the opposite”.

Mackle simply described what could be considered the beginning of the end to a Ports career dating back to 2009 as “disappointing” in which he viewed his contribution as “a loyal servant”.

The decision has divided opinion - with some opting to question the logic of casting aside proven Irish League ability given Portadown’s desperate battle for points to beat the drop out of top-flight football.

Others consider both tainted by the issues of a former regime, forever associated with an era defined by failure to match potential with end product.

The reality is only the three involved can cut through the rumour but even then each individual viewpoint remains a reflection of personal opinion.

Inevitably, sides have been taken and those in the players’ camp point to a lack of Irish League quality across a squad shaping up for a season in which every edge may be required.

Critics of the players will highlight the struggles for consistent form and fitness over a period of time pre-dating McGibbon’s appointment, pointing to a lack of regular results weighed up against reputation.

Few in the current squad can match the medal collection enjoyed by the management team of Pat McGibbon, Vinny Arkins and Trevor Williamson - although, important to note, McAllister’s roll of honour is especially enviable.

Logic would dictate that such trophy-winning experience was achieved within squads capable of blending a variety of characters working towards a common goal.

With that experience of what is required to bond a squad together, it would appear McGibbon has moved decisively to identify and eradicate what he considers a barrier to group progress.

The alternative viewpoint is a manager scrambling for answers to a run of form which has yielded two wins from eight Danske Bank Premiership games - one (Ballinamallard United) which featured Mackle and McAllister both on song, the other (Carrick Rangers) that had both absent from selection.

Set aside the speculation and the fact stands that the Portadown manager has made a call which he considers a key step towards salvaging the season.

It is impossible to measure the true impact, negative or positive, on the squad of McAllister and Mackle across the past or in the future.

The only black-and-white element remains a points return of -6 and only time will tell if the potential reward of McGibbon’s move will outweigh the perceived risk.