Mac set to leave Glentoran on a high
Glentoran 3 Cliftonville 1
Title-winning Glentoran boss Alan McDonald has hinted that he may not be at the club next season after admitting that the uncertainty surrounding his future at The Oval made capturing the Gibson Cup the most difficult achievement of his long footballing career.
The former Northern Ireland captain has yet to be offered a new contract and he made no secret of his frustration at the fact that despite sitting at the summit, in the run-in, he didn't know if he would still be boss the following season — to see them try and retain it.
You could say it was typical Glentoran, that on the day they win their first league title in four years, the talk afterwards was whether or not they will spend the summer looking for a new manager.
While the scenes of euphoria at the capture of the club's 23rd league title were still going on, on the pitch and in various rooms around The Oval, Alan McDonald sat in the medical room speaking to the gathering press, his face offering a range of emotions — only he knows what was going through his head.
What came across from McDonald, though, was a sense that he had almost made his mind up that he would be heading for the exit at the top, and he even said the thought had crossed his mind.
The most significant factor though is the speculation that he could be in the running for Roy Millar's old job as head of coaching at the IFA and McDonald made no secret of his enjoyment in working in a similar job in the past.
“I'm a football person and I have been involved in football since I was 16 years of age when I went to QPR,” he said.
“I was out of it for about two years when I was doing coach education and to be honest during that time I enjoyed doing the coach education and didn't miss football as such because I was instructing and helping coaches and passing on experience.
“I really loved it and it's something that I miss, I must be totally honest because you are giving something back to up and coming coaches.”
He added: “The situation is black and white at the moment. My contract finishes on the 31st of May. I haven't been approached — I did enquire about it but the Chairman and the board of directors haven't discussed it with me at all.”
When asked if it had been difficult to work while that uncertainty was hanging over him, McDonald replied: “Yes it has. Not just for me but for my staff — my staff are in the same position.
“At times I think it has been unfair to ask them to work with that because I haven't been able to plan for the future because I wasn't sure if I was going to be here.
“This time last year I had virtually all of our pre-season planning done and the venues sorted out. I haven't done that as yet.”
The question is, will he now sign the contract, if indeed offered one by the Board?
“It depends on certain factors that I have to be happy with and I won't go into them publicly,” McDonald said.
When asked if he would be tempted to go out on a high, he replied, without pause: “Yes.”
It seems unfair to concentrate on this side of Saturday's glorious events for the Glens, so McDonald took time to praise the very people who made it all possible.
“For the past two and a half years that I have been at Glentoran as first team coach and then as manager — the place grows on you, for all it's faults,” he said.
“When I took this job as manager I stated publicly that the reason I took it was because of the players. They are a fabulous bunch of players and have taken unfair criticism at times.
“Their character was called into question; could they handle the pressure when they were leading? Where they going to bottle it? Over the past four or five weeks against the top five teams and their record has been fabulous.
“What I know is they are not just good players, they are good people too.”
How the League was won...
AUGUST 23: Lisburn Distillery 1 Glentoran 1
IT may not have seemed like it at the time but Dean Fitzgerald's last minute equaliser in the opening game of the league season against Lisburn Distillery at New Grosvenor secured what turned out to be a very precious point. The Whites went on to have a fine campaign and a draw away from home wasn't a bad result at all in the end against one of those teams who really stepped up in the league's new format.
OCTOBER 11: Ballymena United 2 Linfield 0
Kevin Kelbie, the man the Blues had coveted during the summer, stunned David Jeffrey's men with an unlikely two goal haul. The Braidmen had been in shocking form and weren't expected to put up much of a challenge to the champions, but Kelbie's strikes heralded Linfield's first league defeat of the season and set about a run which saw them lose four matches in a row in all competitions.
NOVEMBER 1: Newry City 1 Linfield 1
While Glentoran were away in Cork having reached the final of the Setanta Sports Cup, the Blues had the chance to return to the top of the league with win over hit-and-miss Newry. Linfield took a hit. Emmett Friars' header, eight minutes from time, cancelled out a Glenn Ferguson opener and Linfield missed out on a great opportunity to go top. And the lead would have been extended the following week with Glentoran losing to Crusaders.
JANUARY 3: Glentoran 2 Glenavon 0
The Glens bounced back from a holiday horror show — which saw them defeated by Ballymena United and hammered by Linfield in successive games — grinding out a 2-0 win over struggling Glenavon at the Oval thanks to goals from David Scullion and Philip Carson. The win put them on track for a run of eight games unbeaten in the league.
MARCH 4: Glentoran 2 Linfield 0
This was a game that both sides really needed to win if they were to have any chance of claiming the Gibson Cup and the Glens came out on top to give them a firm lead at the top. Gary Hamilton's cheeky penalty was added to by Michael Halliday in a comfortable night for the Glens which saw them go back to the top of the table having played a game less than the Blues. That one point lead became four a week later with a win over Newry.
APRIL 10: Glentoran 1 Linfield 1
THE Big Two met for the final time in the season with the Blues having a spring in their step thanks to a late victory over their rivals at Windsor Park a few weeks earlier. Paul Munster put David Jeffrey's side ahead again and it looked as though the sides would be swapping places at the top, giving Linfield a huge boost in the run in. They weren't banking on a Michael Halliday header giving the Glens a crucial equaliser deep into injury time. This was the season's most pivotal moment and the goal that won them the title.