Billy Weir: Glentoran look like a new beast from the east
Two draws and a defeat to start the season and it was all doom and gloom in the east. Two wins in four days and suddenly Glentoran are world beaters and everything is right with the universe - it was always thus at The Oval.
To be truthful, somewhere in between is where they are at. I got my first glimpse of the Glentoran revolution at the weekend when they came to Ballymena and left with all three points and upset David Jeffrey into the bargain - a perfect day really for Glensfolk.
It was my first encounter with Mick McDermott too, who, thankfully, was a tad calmer than during the daft altercation he had with Jeffrey and half of the Ballymena bench that led to his dismissal.
But he should maybe sit in the stand all the time, after Robbie McDaid bagged a brace to get his side a first league win of the season. Then, on Tuesday night, he watched on from the seats as Ballyclare Comrades were clinically despatched in the BetMcLean League Cup.
I was mightily impressed with the Glens, which came as a surprise as all reports suggested that they had stank Stangmore Park out the previous weekend.
With so many changes, on and off the pitch, it is no real surprise that there has been a stop-start feel to things. Like Crusaders last season, the move to a more full-time set-up is going to take time, and there will be no shortage of bumps along the way.
McDermott has a great job and a terrible one at the same time. With the resources he has at his disposal, he is under incredible pressure to succeed, but to do so at a club that has lurched from one embarrassment to another in recent times, none of them his doing, is going to take time.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
"The best job in the world is a football player; the second best is a football coach. The only thing that messes it up is matches!" he joked with the pressure visibly lifted a little from his shoulders.
"If you didn't play games it would be brilliant, you could just hang out with the lads, train and have a joke, but the matches mess it up."
Managing expectations is one thing, but with such a big squad it brings more managerial musings, hence nine changes for the League Cup.
It was telling, though, that Jonny Frazer, who scored a hat-trick, and Dutchman Elvio van Overbeek, who was also on target, were the men who helped turn the tide against the Sky Blues and certainly made the most of their starting opportunity.
It is going to take time, there are new players, from across Europe, getting to grips with each other and life at Glentoran.
"We have 10 lads who train every day. All the team are in Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and we have a group of lads in on Wednesday and the same group are in on a Friday," explained McDermott.
"You can't bring foreign players here and train them part-time. John Herron's a full-time player, Elvio (van Overbeek), Hrovje (Plum), Marijan (Antolovic), Mal Smith, Joe Crowe, Darren Murray, and these are lads that this is their job now and it's great to have them."
McDaid is loving life under the new regime, although he had to be content with a place on the bench on Tuesday after his dazzling double on Saturday, and has asked for patience, something that is a very rare commodity in the Mersey Street area.
"We have lads coming in from different countries, different backgrounds, different cultures, and it's great because they're bringing something different we haven't seen in the Irish League for a long, long time," he explained.
"When Elvio and Jonny came on, the pace was great. They are really good technical players, that's what we've got now, a squad of 23-24 lads who can come on and really make a difference.
"Last year we struggled with depth, and injuries and suspensions really hurt us, this year we've got a far better squad. You've got boys coming over here who have never been in the country, just moved over, they're getting to know the country, the league and us boys as well.
"They've only been here a couple of months and we're still gelling as a team, but I think going forward that's a good thing because they're all in and we're competing for places.
"Mick's training has been first class. The level of professionalism around the place has gone up ten-fold."
The Irish League is as healthy as it has been for years but having a strong Glentoran in there, with the level of support they are capable of generating, would make it even better.
Will it happen under McDermott and co? That remains to be seen, but just imagine how good they'll be when he's allowed back in the dug-out!
Wanted Healy is no stranger to managing expectations
I must say I had a little chuckle to myself when I turned to the back page of the Sunday Life to see news that David Healy is now being looked at by cross-channel teams interested in acquiring his services.
Nothing wrong with that given he is on the brink of the greatest-ever achievement by a local manager should Linfield hold on to see off Qarabag tonight and make the group stages of the Europa League.
No, what made me titter was the fickle nature of the game. On November 28, 2015, Healy, just a few weeks into his managerial career, wasn’t being lauded, he was being lambasted.
A 2-0 defeat by Portadown (remember them?) was a fourth league reversal on the bounce and the Blues’ worst run since 1997, and the writing was on the wall and the boo-boys were on his back.
Two of the legends of the game, Ronnie McFall, who masterminded that Shamrock Park win, and Roy Coyle, no stranger himself to life at Linfield, backed the board’s support for the new man at the helm.
Thankfully for Healy and Linfield, the board held their nerve and now they are on the brink of being repaid handsomely — £4m if they progress in Europe — but a look at the Blues’ trophy cabinet, with silverware accumulated under the former Northern Ireland striker’s reign, is already ample reward for their faith.
“They’ve always loved kicking us when we are down. They enjoy it, but Linfield will bounce back. Linfield will rise again,” a prophetic Healy said back then.
McFall added: “The phase he is going through now in his first job — and it’s not an easy job managing Linfield — is very difficult, but it’ll stand him in good stead the rest of his career because it’ll turn for him.”
Back to the present day and Healy is no doubt flattered by any attention that comes his way, but his drive is to continue the great job he is doing and follow in the footsteps of Michael O’Neill and Stephen Kenny as the only Irish managers to get to the group stages.
Tellingly, though, he admitted at the weekend there was another driving factor.
“I love the challenge of proving the people who appointed me at Linfield right,” he added. Let’s hope they get it right tonight.
Surprising Swifts flying high and deservedly so
We have a Dungannon Swifts fan in the office — I know, I can scarcely believe I have met one myself — and he hasn’t been this excited since Adrian Logan was last on UTV.
A top of the table clash with Crusaders now awaits the Swifts, who have started the season on fire with three wins and a draw to sit second just behind the Crues on goal difference.
Those four games were against Ballymena, Glentoran, Glenavon and Institute, so to accumulate 10 point out of 12 is no mean feat and something not lost on Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter, who feels it is evidence of the strength in depth now on show in the Danske Bank Premiership.
“Looking at our set of fixtures over the first four games, you’ve got to be pleased to be top of the league,” he said.
“Teams will take points off each other, given there are so many capable teams.
“It’s great for our game to have so many good coaches and players, it’s a plus and everything is improving.
“Dungannon Swifts may be a surprise package for some, but not me. I know the capabilities they have and a manager in Kris Lindsay who is exceptional.”
If the Swifts emerge still unbeaten from Saturday’s clash at Seaview then they have to be taken seriously, although I’ll whisper that quietly in the office.