Ross Glendinning has become the first Irish League player to openly question the merits of full-time football in Northern Ireland.
The goalkeeper was given an insight into a full-time set-up at Glentoran last season before leaving to join Carrick Rangers in a three-year deal last week.
Despite not featuring as much as he would have liked, the 29-year-old enjoyed his time at the club where his father Mark earned legendary status and he has huge respect for everyone at the Glens.
But the former Linfield and Ballymena United keeper remains unconvinced that full-time structures in Irish League clubs will make a significant difference.
Linfield, Glentoran, Larne and Crusaders have ventured down the full-time route, believing that a more professional approach will improve the standard of football.
The competition for lucrative European funding has intensified but there have been concerns expressed around the level of spending, higher transfer fees and players’ wages.
Last season Cliftonville, despite being a part-time club, demonstrated what can be achieved with a healthy mixture of hard work and talent.
The Reds took the title race to the final day, qualified for Europe and lifted the BetMcLean League Cup, while the Glens, Larne and Crusaders fell away in the race for the Premiership crown.
The Glens and Larne have wealthy owners in Ali Pour and Kenny Bruce respectively, while Crusaders are finalising an arrangement with Perry Chopra’s Irama company.
Linfield, who have secured significant prizemoney from European qualification, introduced their full-time model last season.
Full-time structures require significant investment — not just in the first team squad — but how much of an impact will it make and is it sustainable in the Irish League?
For some players who have jobs, it may not suit them to throw everything at a career which can be short.
Glendinning says he learned a lot from his spell at The BetMcLean Oval and it gave him a better understanding of the full-time game.
“It’s been a season in which I have played the least amount of games but I learned a lot,” he said.
“Mick (McDermott) is a good coach and he deserves more credit but I saw the full-time structure which the league is embracing and it has pros and cons.
“Although I was part-time, I got to see how they worked.
“I struggle to see the proper benefit of the full-time set-up at the minute. I think people are getting caught up in the belief that the quality is better on the pitch but in my early days at Linfield, those players would walk into teams now as would my dad (Mark Glendinning), Colin Nixon and others.
“The fitness aspect and media profile is getting better but I think some of us are getting conned into believing the quality is getting better.
“I’m not saying it’s getting worse. Clubs like Larne are more professional and Linfield have gone full-time but I just don’t see the long term benefits of full-time.
“Coleraine did well as a part-time club and we saw what Cliftonville achieved last season.
“Full-time costs a lot of money and that’s the con of it for me, is it really worth it?
“My argument would be squashed if Irish League teams were getting to the group stages in Europe. I think that would need to happen to sustain the finances.
“I enjoyed my time at Glentoran and working with Mick, I learned a lot as a player and person but, despite what people say about the money here and there, this is still the Irish League and a lot of guys have day jobs.
“The togetherness in the team is probably as important as anything.
“To be fair, there’s pros with improved fitness levels being one aspect and we must see how it plays out in the next few years.
“It was never my intention to go full-time at Glentoran and I’m sure there are good players who can’t play for Glentoran, Linfield or Larne because it doesn’t suit them, regardless of their ability.”
Glendinning relished the chance to work with Glens legend Elliott Morris and he also backs Aaron McCarey to keep improving after a campaign of highs and lows.
McCarey produced some brilliant saves but also endured a few uncomfortable moments, including the high profile incident in October when he struck team-mate Bobby Burns.
“I have so much respect for Elliott, one of the best goalkeepers to play in the Irish League and I learned a lot from him and enjoyed working with him,” added Glendinning.
“I also had a lot of time for Aaron McCarey and I wish him well.
“He was more aggressive than me and pumped up, whereas I would be calmer and more reserved.
“I think the incident with Bobby (Burns) wasn’t as bad as people made out as things just boiled over for a second.
“He was a different type of keeper than me but good and effective.
“It’s a hard place to play but he would have learned a lot and he’s a top keeper, the club are in safe hands with him and he’s a good guy.”
Now approaching his 30s, Glendinning — who was at Glentoran briefly as a teenager before his seven years with Linfield — wants game time and to feel like he’s making a significant contribution at a club.
“I had another year on my contract but I’m happy to join Carrick,” he said.
“I had conversations with Mick from around Christmas as I didn’t enjoy sitting on the bench.
“Goalkeeping is different and it takes something spectacular for the number two to get games.
“Mick said ‘give me until the end of the season and we will come up with something.’
“I was happy to continue but I want to play and feel part of something.
“I had a few good conversations with Stuart King and he sounded very enthusiastic.
“I just want to play games, that’s all. I gave my all at Glentoran but felt I wasn’t contributing.
“I want to feel important to the team and my brother (Reece) speaks highly of Stuart and the club and, of course, Jim (Ervin) was my captain at Ballymena.
“Hopefully I can enjoy the game again and it’s up to me to perform.”