Belfast Telegraph

Grant McCann signed up for rough journey with Linfield

By Graham Luney

Welcome to hell Grant McCann.

That may be a slight exaggeration - he's not walking into an Irish League Celebrity Big Brother House with no hope of escape but he has entered a hostile environment and all eyes are on him.

Grant's quality cannot be questioned. He's played for his country 39 times - what other Irish League player can say that?

However, as far as his opponents in the heat of a Danske Bank Premiership battle are concerned, the Sandy Row man's Northern Ireland caps are yesterday's news.

He's just become public enemy number one. The man supporters (other than Linfield's) love to hate. Of course Grant knows what's coming.

He's been around the block a few times and he knows what to expect. His brother Ryan, who played for Linfield between 2002 and 2005, will brief him on Irish League matters.

Grant understands the demands and expectations at Linfield, just like any passionate supporter of the club would.

But as another Northern Ireland international, Keith Gillespie, discovered when he competed for Glentoran, reputations will not be respected.

Blues boss Warren Feeney will expect referees to protect McCann from anyone wishing to leave an instant impression on the former Peterborough United man. Grant's team-mates will also be expected to keep an eye on their new recruit and make sure he avoids trouble. But I can think of a number of fearless players in this league who would relish a 50-50 challenge with McCann. Players don't get much time on the ball and guys like Declan Caddell, Colin Coates, Ryan Catney, Michael Gault and Robert Garrett won't stand back and watch a master at work.

Grant has said all the right things and as you would expect from a professional he's up for the challenge. Still only 34, his qualities and experience should help Linfield sustain a title challenge but the spotlight will also fall on his match fitness levels.

It may take a few appearances to bring him up to speed with the pace of the game but Blues fans should be excited at the prospect of him shielding the back four and allowing midfielders such as Stephen Lowry and Jamie Mulgrew to show more attacking intent.

Feeney has remarked that every player is equal and will have to earn his place in the team but I can't see McCann warming the bench too often. His arrival further lifts the profile of the league and with attendances rising and defences not turning up, our much maligned game is enjoying a healthy revival.

The title race continues to enthral with Crusaders threatening to make history and Linfield, despite a first season under a rookie boss, still dreaming of a 52nd league title. Champions Cliftonville may be nine points behind leaders Crusaders but they aren't out of it yet, not by a long shot… not unless Joe Gormley quits football and becomes a professional comedian and after dinner speaker!

Many supporters are waiting for the Crusaders' challenge to dwindle but there's no sign of them bottling it this time. A row between Coates and Nathan Hanley during some intense pressure from Glentoran on Saturday suggested the hunger and desire to win the title is there.

Cliftonville will be favourites to overcome Ballymena United in Saturday's Wasp Solutions League Cup final and it's well over 100 years since the club last lifted the same prize three years running. Even if they fall short in the title race this season, Tommy Breslin's side are performing miracles and football has never been in a healthier state in north-Belfast.

But the best news so far this season came yesterday when Scott Irvine's father Tommy confirmed he will be out of hospital 'in the next few days'. Scott is on the road to recovery after suffering life-threatening head injuries when he crashed into a perimeter wall during Carrick Rangers' Irish Cup game with Larne.

The Irvine family aren't thinking about trophies. They just want their boy home and when that happens it will be the best result of the season.

Belfast Telegraph

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