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We're not in the same money league as Portadown, says Glentoran manager Eddie Patterson

By Steven Beacom

Published 01/05/2015

Glens boss Eddie Patterson
Glens boss Eddie Patterson
Ronnie McFall is geared up for the Irish Cup final between Glentoran and Portadown tomorrow

Eddie Patterson believes leading Glentoran to tomorrow's Irish Cup final is his finest achievement in management yet.

And now he wants to cap it by beating a Portadown team who he says, in monetary terms, are akin to an upmarket Belfast hotel compared to bed and breakfast outfit Glentoran.

"Look at the wage bill of the two teams. Portadown are staying at the Merchant Hotel and Glentoran are staying at a bed and breakfast on the Newtownards Road," remarked Patterson to me with one of the quotes of Cup final week.

While financial problems for the debt ridden Glens continue, they are in a healthier state than two years ago when Patterson guided them to a famous Irish Cup final triumph over his old club Cliftonville.

On one occasion that season the Glentoran players effectively went on strike when they refused to show up for training after not being paid. Few blamed them.

They were rich in spirit though, defeating the Solitude men 3-1 in the Windsor Park decider to climax a thrilling Cup run.

Patterson looks back on that victory with immense satisfaction. Fast forward to the present day and talk to him about tomorrow's meeting with Portadown at the Oval and there is an even greater sense of pride.

"When we last reached the final in 2013 we had Sean Ward, Andy Waterworth, Colin Nixon, Stephen Carson and Jason Hill. The experience those lads had was invaluable especially with the situation the club was in with the finances. It could have broken younger players.

"To win the Cup that year was fantastic.

"Two years on we've lost all that experience, albeit we still have the influential Elliott Morris and Stephen McAlorum, the only two players that started in 2013 that will start again this time, and it has been a whole re-building job.

"To achieve what we have this year is unbelievable. Reaching this final is an even bigger achievement than winning the last one and we have done it with a style of play that the Glentoran support appreciate which is a big thing for us.

"The test of a manager is building your teams. I did it at Cliftonville and wasn't afforded the opportunity to finish the job.

"When I took over at Glentoran the aim of myself and my coaching staff was to bring in a certain style of football. The senior players bought into it and we were rewarded with the Cup victory a couple of years ago.

"After that, with so many of our experienced players leaving, new players had to step in, albeit very young and inexperienced players, and they bought into our philosophy and hopefully now they can carry that forward.

"That's the big thing for me. Glentoran moving forward and becoming stronger and better."

The job Patterson and his backroom team have done has to be admired. Financially the Glens boss has operated with his hands tied behind his back since becoming Oval boss in 2012, yet he has led the east Belfast side to two Irish Cup finals in three years and this season had a chance to qualify for Europe through the league until they faded late on. Asked about the future, Patterson talks about where he wants to take Glentoran.

He says: "We still have a long way to go. I as the manager, my coaching staff and the players want to bring Glentoran to where they can be.

"I think Glentoran are a sleeping giant.

"If we win the Irish Cup we get a major European windfall. That could mean us not losing any players and being able to bring in the experience we need which I believe could see us challenging for the Irish League title within two seasons.

"I know that with any money that comes into the club we have to pay off some of our debts, but to move the club forward as a whole we need to invest a certain percentage in the team too.

"If you look over the course of the last few years our budget has dropped, dropped and dropped again. If it goes down any further it wouldn't be worth talking about.

"I believe in wages we are the lowest payers in the top six Irish League sides and are also below Coleraine and Ballymena."

It's not surprising that the financial problems are a frustration for the manager.

You do wonder at times how long he can continue fighting these types of fires, when other teams freely shell out the cash to bring in new recruits to progress.

The Glentoran board would do well to consider that because other Irish League clubs, impressed by his work at the Oval, would take Patterson in a heartbeat if he felt the support to move the team forward was not there.

Asked who he sees as the main threats tomorrow Patterson goes through a long list of Portadown players from Chris Casement to Robbie Garrett to Gary Twigg who could hurt his side. He's not shy, though, to add his team has several match winners too, like Jordan Stewart, Curtis Allen and McAlorum.

Patterson says: "They have experience and threats from all over the park but it is how we deal with that and if we get our tactics right and keep possession and stay focused we have every chance."

He hopes another factor will come into play, the Glentoran support who will outnumber their Portadown counterparts at the Oval.

"I believe our fans can play an important part on the day for us. Their support really can lift us," he concludes.

Win or lose I intend to carry on, insists McFall

Ronnie McFall says he has no intention of stepping down any time soon as Portadown manager.

The legendary boss has been at the helm at Shamrock Park for almost 30 years, and still has the fire in his belly to continue the job. Just as well, it's virtually impossible to imagine Irish League football without the irrepressible 69-year-old.

He is a colossus of local football and enters tomorrow's Irish Cup final hoping to win the competition for the fourth time for the mid-Ulster side, equalling the number of league titles he has brought to Portadown, who before he arrived in 1986 had never been crowned champions.

To be a winner again he must beat his old club Glentoran, who he played for and managed to great success. That didn't stop them sacking him though on Boxing Day 1984. So much for Christmas spirit.

A fierce rivalry exists between the Glens and the Ports. Many in Irish League football suggest it stems from McFall's resentment of how he was treated at the Oval.

When quizzed about his feelings towards Glentoran in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph this week, McFall addressed the issue head on.

"I have no animosity towards Glentoran at all contrary to what a lot of people in football seem to think," he said.

"I enjoyed playing for Glentoran and played with some great players there. I also enjoyed managing Glentoran too. They were and still are a big club and I have a lot of friends at the Oval which may surprise some people. I'll always be grateful to them for giving me my chance in management as it was something I always wanted to do.

"I know it's out there that I have something against the club, but that's not true."

Asked about the tension in the air when the teams meet, which has built up over the years, McFall offered this reason.

"When I left Glentoran and became manager of Portadown I went back to the Oval to sign some players. I didn't go for their top players, I signed the young players who didn't feel they were getting a chance, players like Philip Major, Brian Strain, Alfie Stewart and Paul Millar.

"When those players went back to play against Glentoran they always felt they had something to prove, like any player going back to his old club, and that is where the needle came in. It still exists to this day."

Reflecting on his shock dismissal from the Oval, McFall said: "I got the sack on Boxing Day. We played Distillery at New Grosvenor and we won that day to move one point behind Linfield at the top with a match in hand.

"I had a couple of years left on my contract and had previously told the board that if we didn't win the league that year I'd walk away. I knew at the time there was a lot of talk behind the scenes so after the match on Boxing Day I confronted the board and told them 'I said to you if we don't win the league I'd resign but now that's not going to happen'. I added that if they wanted rid of me they would have to sack me and that's exactly what happened."

Asked if he would have liked more time, McFall paused for a moment's thought, before replying: "Do I wish I had more time? What I do know is the season I was sacked I'm sure we would have gone on to win the league because we had the strongest squad.

"When I took over Glentoran they were bottom of the league and I always maintian that for any team in that situation it takes at least three years to get a side together to challenge for the title. I won it within three years and we were undefeated champions and when we won the Irish Cup that was the first time Glentoran had won it in 10 years, so I look back on my time there and believe I did a good job."

All these years on, the man believed to be the longest serving manager in Europe at one club, continues to be Mr Portadown and will do whatever it takes to deliver success.

He says the Cup final should NOT be taking place at the Oval, upping the ante by adding: "It is like a home draw for them and every team is expected to win their home games. The pressure is on them. Eddie Patterson says we are favourites, but he strikes me as a wee bit edgy with his comments lately."

I say to Ronnie if the Ports fail to win would they have underachieved this season. Quick as a flash, he states: "Well, we are going to win, that's our objective, so we won't even go there."

McFall is in the middle of a two year contract. Should the Ports win would he not be tempted to go out on a high?

"No," is the answer.

"The main thing that governs everything is your health. If you are not well you can't do your job. So if my health is still good and my enthusiasm, passion, drive and hunger is still there I intend to keep on going."

Long may he reign.

Belfast Telegraph

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