McDonald's men primed for real scrap
Carnegie Premier League
A quick glance at Glentoran's fixture list tells you that a lot of fingernails could be disappearing in east Belfast over the holiday period.
Cliftonville away tomorrow, at home to Linfield on Boxing Day, away to Portadown next Saturday and home to Ballymena United on New Year's Day.
A massive four games for the club and after these daunting showdowns we will have a much clearer understanding of the Glens' title-winning credentials.
Either the players will show their hunger for Gibson Cup glory or it could all end in tears - even as early as January.
In football you have to earn things, and if Alan McDonald's men want to end Linfield's dominance on the domestic stage the players are going to have to roll their sleeves up and turn on the style at places like Solitude.
It's not a place for the faint-hearted, particularly when a Cliftonville side with their own title dreams, lies in wait.
Champions Linfield were given a roller-coaster ride at the north Belfast venue in the first ever Irish League match televised live on Sky Television and fans could be in for another stormy afternoon tomorrow.
In fact, a feisty encounter is guaranteed as the Reds' County Antrim Shield semi-final defeat to Glentoran in October left a bad taste in the mouth of the Solitude men.
The Glens progressed to the final following a 2-1 win but the scoreline doesn't even begin to tell the story.
Declan O'Hara was dismissed for a two-footed tackle on David Scullion and manager Eddie Patterson was also sent to the stands.
The Reds chief also had to dodge a baseball thrown by thugs following his sending off.
Fasten your seatbelts for another action-packed 90 minutes.
"Eddie will expect his players to be competitive and that's what I want to see from my players," said Glens boss McDonald.
"These are big games and it will be interesting to see how my players cope. It's a real derby match that tests players physically as well as mentally.
"Form goes out the window and it's all about performing on the day as both teams are capable of beating each other.
"We have massive games coming up, starting with the Cliftonville one which is uppermost in our minds because it's the next one, but if players cannot motivate themselves for occasions like this they shouldn't be playing football.
"Cliftonville have done very well this season and deserve to be top of the league. Solitude is a difficult place to get a result but that is the challenge my players will relish.
"It's an interesting fixture as it's one of the few games Glentoran will play were they would be considered the under-dogs."
If the Glens lose to their title-chasing rivals tomorrow, some of their fans may feel like throwing in the white towel but McDonald is predicting many more twists and turns in 2008.
"I've said all along it's a long season and teams will drop points," added the former Northern Ireland skipper.
"But having said that, these are very important games and the team which wins them will get a tremendous boost.
"We'll take a good support to Solitude and there should be a good atmosphere at the game."
Approaching the half-way point of the season, McDonald's mid-term report is encouraging.
"Apart from two big disappointments - losing to Crusaders in the CIS Cup semi-final and to Limavady United in the league - we have done well," he added.
"Overall, I am pleased with the squad but in January I will consider adding to the squad if a player possesses the quality we need."
McDonald has not yet held talks with Crues boss Stephen Baxter and Gary Smyth regarding the player's loan deal and he was also surprised to read a story linking Kyle Neill with a January switch to Glenavon.
"As far as I was concerned Kyle was happy at Glentoran," he added.
" This story didn't come from Glentoran and Kyle is under contract until the end of the season. Nothing is happening there at the moment."