Glentoran will keep going, says captain Leeman
A long, hard season for Glentoran will come to an end today with the most glittering of prizes awaiting them if they give it one final push for glory.
One more win at the Oval against Irish Cup finalists Cliftonville will be enough to ensure that for the first time since 2005, the Gibson Cup will be adorned by red, green and black ribbons.
Anything less and they have to hope that bitter rivals Linfield slip up across town against the other half of the north-Belfast derby cup final, Crusaders.
The way this season has been going, you wouldn’t rule out one final twist in the tale.
Currently a point ahead at the top of the JJB Sports Premiership, Glentoran have at one stage found themselves miles in front and on other occasions, a fair bit behind.
But here they stand, their destiny sitting comfortably in their own hands and 90 minutes away from ending a blue domination that ironically began with Glentoran claiming their last title four years ago.
Glenmen were still buzzing from that success when a couple of weeks later, Linfield sensationally won the Setanta Cup against the odds by beating Shelbourne on their own patch.
What emerged from that was a Linfield team, by their own admission, spurred on by the pain of seeing one of their old boys, Chris Morgan inflict an injury time defeat in the penultimate game of the season.
Three amazing league and cup doubles in a row for the blue machine was the result.
Now, finally, Glentoran have stepped in to break this monopoly, but as skipper Paul Leeman points out, it’s far from a foregone conclusion.
He is expecting a tough encounter when the Reds come to town — all talk of whether or not they will field a weakened team with the cup final in sight, has been brushed aside in Camp Oval.
But it is the fact that success is in their grasp and only their performance today will have an impact on whether they are toasting their 23rd league title, or drowning their sorrows, that is driving Leeman and his team mates forward.
“When you win a title you want to go out and try to retain it and show that you are the best,” said Leeman.
“We haven’t managed to do that and since we last won it, Linfield have gone on to dominate.
“We got close to them last year, but it was never in our hands — this time it is.
“When you start the season off this is where you want to be. We are now just one game away from winning the league, which is the biggest prize on offer and now what we have to do is take it over the finishing line.
“It’s been a long, very tough season for us. We started back in June and I think we’ve played something like 56 games which is a lot for a part-time team.
“I have played 48 of those so there is life in the old dog yet.
“We had a bit of a break, though, over Easter time and that, I think, has really helped us.
“We had a good rest, got rid of any knocks and niggles and have come out of that strongly and have looked sharp in the run-in.
“Now we have to keep that momentum going for one more game.
He added: “We have stepped it up a notch because we fully expected that Linfield wouldn’t drop any more points so we had to keep pushing.
“We just have to keep it up.”
Leeman has been a title winner on three occasions — 1998, 2003 and 2005 — and he admits that there probably should have been a few more.
But rather that reflect on past disappointments, the 31-year-old is looking to future glories and hoping to be part of something to remember again.
“I have been lucky to have won three titles and each one of them made me hungry for more,” he said.
“You could say that we could have won more and there are always going to be times when people will say, ‘what about those points you dropped,’ but that is in the past.
“Many great players have never won a league title and I want to win this one every bit as much as the others and I am going to do everything in my power to make that happen.
“The club has had a bit of a dry spell in recent years in major competitions and we have a chance to put that right.
“It’s all come down to one more game — we knew it was going to be tight and that is how it has turned out.
“We just have to make sure that we keep our focus and concentrate on ourselves and never mind what is happening anywhere else.
“The only thing that matters is on the pitch at the Oval.
“There will be a big crowd, hopefully a great atmosphere and if we all do our jobs, hopefully we will have done enough to get our hands on the title.”