When Glentoran manager Alan McDonald took on Linfield for the first time back on Boxing Day last year he looked at the Blues 19-year unbeaten run in festive derbys and declared ‘records are there to be broken.’
Now it is the Oval boss who is defending a proud record when the bitter Belfast rivals go head-to-head in the league for the frist time this season in east Belfast tomorrow.
The Glens made it a happy festive season for their fans when Michael Halliday struck the only goal of the game the day after Santa Claus’ visit and only a fantastic save from Alan Mannus prevented Gary Hamilton from grabbing a late winner in the return game.
McDonald, however, is staying consistent as he defends an unbeaten record against the Blues in league football.
“Our record against Linfield over the last couple of seasons has been good, but everyone knows that the form book goes out the window in these games,” said McDonald.
“There are two very good teams going into battle. You don’t become Irish League champions if you aren’t a good team and I think I have a good team myself.
“Games between Glentoran and Linfield are always big, that’s why they are called the Big Two and they are exciting for neutrals as well as the players, the management and the fans of the two clubs.
“I am looking forward to the game and I know the players are too.
“There is a lot of hype connected with these games as well, it is my job to try to keep the players minds on the football and have them as relaxed as possible.”
It is the fans that McDonald is thinking about as well.
He has been afforded a lot more time than many of his predecessors at the Oval and although that may start to run out at any stage, the former Northern Ireland captain is determined to give the Oval faithful some more early-season cheer after beating David Jeffrey’s side 4-1 at Windsor Park in the Setanta Sports less than a fortnight ago.
“Big Two games are hugely important to the fans,” said McDonald.
“There are bragging rights attached as well.
“Glentoran fans work alongside Linfield supporters and they will be standing beside each other on Monday morning.
“I want it to be the Glentoran fans who are going in with smiles on their faces after a win.”
As well as that Setanta Cup win, Glentoran have also chalked up another significant victory over Linfield this season.
The Glens beat their rivals to the signature of Northern Ireland under-21 international striker Andy Waterworth from Hamilton just before the transfer window closed.
So far Linfield fans have had a chuckle as the former Lisburn Distillery man has yet to find the net for his new club,.
Tomorrow would be the perfect time for him to start and McDonald isn’t expecting to have to wait too long for Waterworth’s first meaningful contribution in the green, red and black.
“Andy Waterworth is a quality player, but he has been through a difficult and an unsettling time,” said McDonald.
“He felt settled at Hamilton, but was then deemed surplus to requirement and has been trying to settle in back at home now,” he added.
“I think maybe he has been trying too hard to score, but I have been trying to take the pressure off him.
“He has brought competition for places too. Michael Halliday found himself out of the team after we signed Andy, but his response has been fantastic and he has weighed in with important goals.
“That’s what I wanted though, I signed Andy to give us more competition and bringing the best out in other people is a positive to come from that.”