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Detroit Cougars legacy lives on as Glentoran rookies enjoy experience of lifetime in Motor City

Detroit City 1-0 Glentoran

By Jim Gracey

The legend of the Detroit Cougars, woven into the fabric of Glentoran and Irish League folklore, will forever be retold but never replicated.

Yet, in their own way, the Glens' rookie class of 2017 will be able to look back on their 50th-anniversary celebration of the Cougars' 1967 exploits in Motor City as a one in a lifetime experience.

It could also be career defining, as it was for their forebears, five of whom progressed to English and Scottish clubs from the Cougars successful tour to help introduce football to the United States and every one remains an icon of the club.

Nothing on that scale will come out of the past four days spent in Detroit and culminating on Saturday night with a 1-0 defeat by their Detroit City hosts, trying for the fifth time since the Cougars to elbow their way onto a stage dominated by Motown's four major league franchises in American football, baseball, ice hockey and basketball.

Neither side on show at the modest Keyworth Stadium, as much in need of restoration as The Oval, would lay claim to being in the same league as the Cougars either.

That Glentoran side brought football to Detroit in 1967 and the service was reciprocated overwhelmingly here.

Never in 30 years travelling the world with football teams have I witnessed such hospitality and goodwill lavished on a visiting side as experienced here by Glentoran.

Their impressionable young players were treated like princes, likewise, the club directors and small band of supporters, and those spared will surely carry the memories for another 50 years.

There had been fears the Glens innocents abroad, their youth and inexperience reflecting the hard times on which the proud old club has fallen, would be embarrassed by the fitter, ready for action Americans primed for the start of their domestic season.

In the event, home blushes were spared by Tyler Moorman's 85th-minute winner, two minutes after keeper Dwayne Nelson, on at half time for Elliott Morris, had saved a penalty from Jeff Adkins.

There would surely have been red faces among the Glens travelling party had they won or even drawn this game after the red carpet treatment they received.

Without a competitive game in four weeks and parading three new faces, Glentoran battled bravely in the 24-degree early evening heat; never carried enough threat to win but could have scraped a draw.

Detroit, as expected, were more athletic, while Glentoran boss Gary Haveron countered that with organisation, restricting his opponents to few chances.

They were up against it from the start after losing their best goal hope, Curtis Allen, with an ankle injury in the warm up on an artificial surface that has seen better days. And they were on the back foot for most of the second half as Detroit made 10 interval substitutions, with Haveron's agreement, meaning they started the half with a fresh side.

Read more: Glentoran's Curtis Allen injury scare not as bad as first feared

Nelson made two vital interventions to prevent Detroit scoring before his penalty save looked to have earned a creditable draw but, with the clock counting down, a loose ball in the box wasn't cleared and Moorman pounced to rifle it into the top left corner.

It was a game played in a noisy, vibrant atmosphere with the 5000 Detroit fans treating their 50 Glens counterparts, several ex-pats among them, to a rousing repertoire of original chants and songs.

Two players on each side - James Ferrin and Jonathan Smith for the Glens - were booked in a sometimes physical encounter played in the spirit of the fixture, celebrating the links between the two clubs through competitive football, further underlined by the reception accorded to Cougars' Billy Sinclair and Tommy Jackson who were introduced to the crowd in the centre circle at half time and thanked over the public address for their part in introducing football to Detroit.

The legacy of this tour, 50 years on, will hopefully see Detroit City prosper and grow in the manner their drive and ambition deserves and could also represent a new beginning for the Glens and their young standard bearers.

John McGuigan in his first game back from Warrenpoint Town, and Corey McMullan, signed from Ballyclare Comrades, enjoyed particularly stand out games.

As seasoned club Director of Football Roy Coyle observed: "We came here with players who had never experienced travelling and playing in Europe and certainly nothing like this experience in the United States.

"If they do not grow as footballers and individuals as a result, they do not deserve to be at this club. It has been an education for them, on and off the field, and what they take from it will define the future direction for them and for the club.

"Be under no illiusions, Glentoran have a long road to travel from here to become a force again but a start has been made in a priceless bonding exercise and experiences that ought to inspire them to aspire to greater things."

The travelling party were due to touch down in Dublin at breakfast time this morning after a second, tiring 18-hour journey in four days, this time via Atlanta, Georgia.

In that short space of time, they have simultaneously turned back the clock 50 years and maybe, just maybe, put down a marker for their own and their club's futures.

DETROIT: Miller, Hoskins, Glass, Carroll, Lawson, Saydee, Bock, Edwardson, Franco, Castorino, Otim.

GLENTORAN: Morris (Nelson), Kelly, Redman, Sterling, Ferrin, Foley (Gordon), McGuigan, McMullan, Delaney (Smith), Jallow, O'Neill (Hamill).

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