The champagne which flowed when Glentoran won the league title last season lost a little sparkle over the summer.
There was uncertainty over the future of manager Alan McDonald, players’ bonuses were not paid and contracts had to be agreed. But McDonald has not walked away from the Oval hotseat and skipper Paul Leeman insists it’s business as usual on Mersey Street.
At one stage it looked like being a turbulent summer in east Belfast but when the Glens kick off their title defence at Lisburn Distillery tomorrow, Leeman insists the players will be focused on Gibson Cup glory once again.
“Alan told us the situation,” he said. “He signed a new deal as has his backroom team and as far as we are concerned we only have one focus which is winning the league again.
“All the contracts are sorted and we managed to keep key players like Colin Nixon at the club.
“There are some good kids coming through so hopefully we can all pull together and get even stronger, picking up where we left off last season.”
Leeman, who is a doubtful starter at Lisburn Distillery with a calf injury, likes what he sees in new signing Richard Clarke, a player in the Scott Young mould.
“I’ve only played a few games with Richard but he looks great in training and his attitude is second to none,” added Leeman who has pocketed four championship medals.
“I think he will be a great acquisition to our squad and hopefully he and Shane McCabe can form a great partnership in the middle.
“Scotty (Young) had a great goal record from midfield and that is something Richard will be looking to do.
“There are some similarities there and hopefully he can provide more creativity. He likes to get on the ball and make things happen — that can only be good for our squad.”
Glentoran may be the champions but the bookies have Linfield firm favourites to taste title glory again. Leeman is quite happy to be written off by punters as there is enough pressure on the shoulders of champions.
“The odds don’t surprise me,” he added. “Linfield are a huge club and they are expected to win the league title. Every summer they strengthen more than anybody. They have bought more players than anyone else so the expectation is always there.”
Glentoran have failed to retain a league title since 1968 but Leeman insists there is no danger of players taking their foot off the pedal.
“Individual players have that hunger to do it again and I have it,” he added. “I thought I was never going to win a league title again because Linfield were dominating but it was fantastic to turn the tide last season.
“I’d love to be a Glentoran captain that retains the league title.
“That is a personal goal of mine but it’s all about the team’s ambitions and together as a group we enjoyed the title celebrations and want to repeat them.”