apFew can match the pride and passion of Robbie McDaid when it comes to derby day against Linfield but the Glentoran striker is searching for more than bragging rights from this weekend.
The latest chapter in the domestic game’s biggest rivalry will feature an extra international flavour at Windsor Park given recruitment by the Glens from beyond the traditional borders.
The impact of Croatia-born Marijan Antolovic and Hrvoje Plum plus former Holland under 21s’ international Elvio Van Beeken stands central to Glentoran’s growing confidence cemented by three consecutive Danske Bank Premiership wins.
McDaid can recall watching his father, John, play for the Glens in the 1980s and has a host of derby memories from time either side of the white line. However, it is testament to the ambition of Glentoran that McDaid wants more from the season than a ‘Big Two’ boost.
“It is our biggest test to date this season but probably the closest the two squads have been for some time,” said McDaid. “Since I signed for Glentoran in 2017 it’s not like we sit on a long run of defeats to Linfield and we have had good moments but in the past we’ve maybe been looking to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
“It’s been great to give our fans something to cheer about by beating Linfield but also this season we’ve momentum behind us and want to be challenging week after week.
“This is currently the best run in my time at the club and we have quite a lot of the same players but with the added signings there is now a bigger choice, which increases the level of competition.
“There’s a sense then that our season or what we can achieve as a club does not hinge on Saturday, although it would be a massive statement of intent to get one over on the champions.”
McDaid may have his focus on long-term goals as well as short-term gains but will always embrace the ‘Big Two’ buzz.
“Nothing compares and it is about that first touch of the ball,” said McDaid. “Then it can settle down into another game and it is always important to keep your head rather than react to the fans or atmosphere.
“But it is going to be a first taste of it for some of our lads and I’m pretty sure they will not have known as passionate a game.”
Linfield’s defence of the league title has been disrupted by the demands of a dream Europa League run but manager David Healy admits excitement at the most traditional of domestic dates.
“It’s a big game certainly, Glentoran have started the season well,” said Healy on the club’s official website. “We’ve been here, there and everywhere basically but are now back in the nitty-gritty of getting three points in the league.
“There’s no bigger game, no bigger occasion, no bigger opposition to play against in my eyes.
“So we look forward to the challenge, we welcome the challenge, our players are looking forward to the game.
“Hopefully, we are going to have a large vocal home support getting right behind the players and Glentoran, I would imagine, will have a large vocal away support.
“So it should make for a good occasion.
“It’s a game I’m looking forward to and one the players should be excited about and relish.”
The Blues’ preparations this week included confirmation of contract extensions for Kirk Millar and Jordan Stewart.
“Both players were key members of our successful squad last season and I believe they can continue to make a significant contribution to our club for at least the next three years,” said Healy. “They are young, talented and committed to Linfield and I’m delighted that they have shown their loyalty to this club by agreeing this contract extension at this time.
“This news will be welcomed by our supporters, a boost to everyone ahead of a huge derby at Windsor Park.
“Over the coming weeks, we will hold discussions with other players who we want to extend their association with this club.”