Premiership ‘on the cusp of something’ for Glentoran’s Mick McDermott
Glentoran boss Mick McDermott heads into a bid for Premiership title glory declaring the Irish League as “on the cusp of something”.
Following a summer of significant transfer business across the top fight - including a move by the Glens for Shay McCartan considered a record fee in Irish League history - McDermott is anticipating a thrilling campaign.
And McDermott views continued high-profile action as key to progress across the board.
“It’s a good time, it feels like the league’s on the cusp of something,” he said ahead of today’s visit to Dungannon Swifts to cap a week which celebrated a record-breaking £250,000 sponsorship deal between the Glens and BetMcLean. “Especially if the money comes in for the stadia.
“You see the back pages of our newspapers covering Irish League transfers and this is what it’s about to attract more major sponsors and people.
“It’s the entertainment business for them, it’s the football business for us.
“The reality is, if you want to bring new money and fans into this league, the product has to be exciting.
“We’ve sold more season tickets than ever before.
“I’ve seen a vast improvement in all the teams and style of football developing across the board.
“The various projects are all part of this excitement.
“Most of the part-time clubs were in training Tuesday and Thursday when I arrived two years ago and now most are in three or four nights.”
And McDermott is happy to embrace the pressures - internal and external - that come with Glentoran’s return as an Irish League powerhouse in the title hunt.
The Glens’ growth following McDermott’s arrival in 2019 as part of substantial investment has resulted in a rise back up the Premiership table for one of the traditional ‘Big Two’.
With old rivals Linfield celebrating league-and-cup double delight last season, but Glentoran’s summer business including the capture of McCartan, McDermott accepts the sense of renewed optimism around the Oval outfit.
“At Glentoran if we do spend money the pressure’s there...if we don’t sign players the pressure’s there,” said McDermott. “Speaking to great players from Glentoran’s past the saying is about how you’re only as good as your last pass.
“The team was sitting ninth when we came in and they were still expected to win.
“We are only two years into our rebuild but, from the start, you could feel the sense of community.
“Look around the world at an investor coming in at any club and can you tell me who has been able to do it in less than five or six years?
“How long is it going to take us? I hope it’s this year...but there’s hope now that wasn’t there before.
“In my first season here we noticed everywhere we went everyone loved beating the Glens, with the history of the club but at that point down.
“Now I can imagine the teamtalk from opponents saying how we want to spend money and they’re part-time etc...but it motivates people and I think that’s good for the league.
“I don’t think of it as a negative, I think it’s brilliant for the league.
“I think it’s fair to say that other clubs have seen what us, Larne and Linfield have been part of then looking at it and trying to push on.
“When we go to Dungannon this weekend they’ll raise their game but we know if we don’t perform then we lose.”
With home turf now under a sponsorship rename as the BetMcLean Oval, McDermott is looking forward to the return this season of spectators.
“I think we had two weeks off in 11 months...but still itching to get going this season,” said McDermott. “I was thinking about it the other day how we have five or six players who have never really played at the Oval in front of fans, which is crazy.
“The Oval with supporters in is brilliant and our home record over the past two years has been strong.
“We’ve always said we want to make the Oval the way it was in the past...that hard place to come for opponents.”
Following a summer flurry of over 20 players heading in and out of Stangmore Park, manager Dean Shiels is relishing the chance to showcase a Dungannon Swifts that’s ‘my team and a team playing the way I want to play’.
Shiels’ appointment in early March signalled the introduction of a football philosophy the former Northern Ireland international spent hours defining and defending.
But the growing pains confirmed to Shiels the need for a summer switch from short-term revolution to long-term evolution in a bid to turn plans into points.
Now he can play host to Glentoran bolstered by a pre-season programme designed to integrate and implement his ideas into a squad in his image rather than one inherited.
“I think at the end of every season if it’s a case of two in and two out as a manager you’re happy,” said Shiels. “But the turnover’s been dramatic...with 15 gone and seven in.
“When I first came in we had 33 players, so it’s more or less a new squad.
“We did a lot of early business.
“And still looking to add more in three or four areas.
“The challenge was to make the squad smaller but more competitive and add quality.
“The aim is to be better this year than last year and we managed to keep the players we wanted and those we moved on was to help refresh the squad, then strengthen and try to improve.
“There are always going to be ups and downs over a season so if you’ve good people in there then you’ve half a chance.
“I’m looking forward to working with players I’ve signed.
“It will be my team and a team playing the way I want to play.”
Shiels reflects on his initial period as Swifts boss last season as “a learning curve” and accepts today’s visit by Glentoran presents a look at one of the Premiership’s strongest sides.
“It’s going to take time to gel new signings but we’ve had pre-season and now need competitive games in the league to make us better,” said Shiels. “Glentoran have an unbelievable squad, with quality everywhere but it’s a challenge we relish.
“They could put out two quality teams...but we’ve got to stand up to the challenge.
“They’ve spent money but money doesn’t buy you points so we will try to give them the hardest game we can on opening day.
“Last season was a really good learning curve for me in terms of learning about the league, the opposition and players.
“Being thrown in without relegation we had a different approach and more about helping blood players for the coming year.
“The league’s competitive at the top as those teams have such big squads full of quality.
“But teams towards the bottom from last year trying to compete and have different objectives.
“We want an improvement on last year and try to be better in every department.”
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