Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Glentoran show off strength in depth

Glentoran manager Alan McDonald made a massive statement of intent on Saturday when he sent his troops out to face Coleraine at the Oval.

Having endured what he admitted were a few sleepless nights over selection issues for the JJB Sports Premiership game, the former Northern Ireland captain made a couple of big decisions.

First of all he kept faith with the rather less than experienced side which defeated Linfield so spectacularly in the Setanta Sports Cup the previous Monday.

That meant sitting on the bench was local football’s best striker, Gary Hamilton, and alongside him in-form Dean Fitzgerald and David Scullion, on his day, one of the most exciting players in the league.

But it wasn’t just there where the personnel choices caused raised eyebrows, on a day when Michael Halliday and Scullion scored the goals which won it for the Glens after the Bannsiders had gone in front through Gareth Harkin.

Sitting in the stands, and not even able to get a place alongside Hamilton et al, were two of last season’s best players.

Shane McCabe, whose impact at the Oval since his arrival at the beginning of this year has been immense, passed a fitness test after suffering an ankle injury recently, but was left out.

So, too, was last season’s Glentoran Player of the Year, Jason Hill, with the emergence of young full back Johnny Black, keeping him out.

It takes a brave man to make decisions like these and you get the impression that McDonald will continue to do it as he bids to bring the Gibson Cup to east Belfast for the first time since 2005.

“Jason, unfortunately, was one of the casualties,” he said. “I felt that the players I had on the bench covered all eventualities of anything happening on the pitch.

He added: “I have been looking at a lot of things recently and have been concerned, to a certain degree, at performances even in winning games recently.

“I just felt that the team that played on Monday night deserved another chance. And you

can put seven subs on the bench in the Setanta Cup and only five in the league so some had to drop out.

“Knowing Jason, he’s a fabulous lad and he will go away and work hard and try and get back into the team.

“Shane was fit, but I decided not to play him, and he’ll do the same.”

A side note to Saturday’s game was a rumour which swept around the Oval concerning Hamilton’s future at the Oval, given further credence by the fact that it was revealed on the radio.

This had been going around at the time of the transfer window, with suggestions that he was on his way to boyhood club Glenavon.

Quite why they were suddenly dug out again at the weekend and then broadcast on the radio is baffling — apart from the fact that someone had seen that Hamilton was left out, which obviously meant he was going to leave — but McDonald was only too willing to pour cold water on the rumours.

“I haven’t had one manager call me up about Gary’s situation at Glentoran Football Club,” he said.

“People can do what they want. If there is anybody wants to make a bid for Gary Hamilton, if they are in the background and they are putting out Chinese whispers, if they want to come to the forefront and phone me I will be more than willing to take the call.

“But at this moment in time Gary Hamilton is a Glentoran player and he will remain a Glentoran player. And I will do everything in my power to make sure he is a Glentoran player.”

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