Belfast Telegraph

Portadown boss Ronnie McFall is on course for a well-deserved apology

Fans who wanted McFall out are being proved wrong

By Graham Luney

When David Jeffrey announced he was stepping down as Linfield boss near the end of last season, the Irish League was preparing to wave farewell to one of its most colourful and larger than life characters.

Like or loathe David, he was always worth listening to and his passion for our game is undiminished.

I think we can all agree that the Danske Bank Premiership needs characters.

If you asked Irish League fans if there is one person in the game who amazes them, then the answers may be varied, perhaps shining a light on an unsung hero. But, as far as I’m concerned, the one man who still amazes me to this day is Portadown boss Ronnie McFall, now one of the longest serving managers in world football. I’ve been thinking about McFall recently because there was significant talk at the end of last season that we were about to lose him.

Many Portadown fans wanted a change at the top and those dissenting voices didn’t disappear, even after news surfaced that the veteran supremo had agreed a new two-year deal at the beginning of May.

While Linfield allowed their legendary boss to walk off into the sunset, the Portadown board and chairman Roy McMahon stood by the man who has been committed to the cause since taking charge in December 1986. Big Ronnie has even seen off former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

Why does Ronnie amaze me? There are players in his squad, including Northern Ireland under-17 ace Shea Conaty, who weren’t even born when McFall began his Portadown team-talks.

I was still at secondary school when Ronnie arrived at the Ports — that’s how long ago it was!

But, as we all know, experience, past success and longevity offers no protection when results take a downward spiral. Every manager, even Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin with back to back titles under his belt, is only three games away from a crisis.

But the Ports fans were right to be angry last summer. It’s their club and they are entitled to have strong opinions if starved of success.

McFall has led the team to four Irish League titles — including an inaugural one for the club in 1990 — and three Irish Cup successes and in 2009 he was given a five-year contract.

But the Co-Operative Insurance Cup triumph and their Ladbrokes Championship title win that same year were the last trophies to arrive at Shamrock Park.

No league title since 2002 and no Irish Cup since 2005 while the club’s progress was badly dented by an administrative error which saw the Ports kicked out of the new invitational league in 2008.

The fans were restless though Ronnie would be the first to admit that no ‘major’ honours in nearly 10 years is simply not good enough for a club of Portadown’s stature.

Just to rub salt into their wounds, their mid-Ulster rivals Glenavon got their hands on the Irish Cup!

The writing was on the wall and many voices said Ronnie’s time was up. But there’s life in the old dog yet and his quick-fire purchases of Michael Gault, Robbie Garrett and Mark McAllister helped smother some of the criticism.

These guys are multiple title winners and some Linfield fans would take them back in a heartbeat.

Ronnie has transformed his midfield. Now he needs what every manager in the world needs — luck.

He doesn’t have the biggest squad of players but the fit-again Keith O’Hara and Ross Redman have their shoulders to the wheel again and if his big names can steer clear of injuries, the Ports can win the title.

And should that happen, then Ronnie will be able to smile and seek an apology from all those who doubted him.

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