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Glentoran's title race is not over yet, warns boss McDermott



Old foes: Glentoran’s Paul O’Neill and Cliftonville ace Aaron Donnelly clash in the County Antrim Shield semi-final in November

Old foes: Glentoran’s Paul O’Neill and Cliftonville ace Aaron Donnelly clash in the County Antrim Shield semi-final in November

�INPHO/Brian Little

Old foes: Glentoran’s Paul O’Neill and Cliftonville ace Aaron Donnelly clash in the County Antrim Shield semi-final in November

Glentoran boss Mick McDermott insists his side can still sense a late, dramatic twist in the title race.

Champions Linfield are out in front with eight games remaining but they also know that Coleraine and their Big Two rivals are breathing down their necks.

Coleraine are only four points adrift of David Healy's men with the Glens four further back.

Coleraine have a tricky assignment at Ballymena United today while Linfield travel to Carrick.

Glentoran, on a high after their Irish Cup quarter-final victory over Crusaders, face their semi-final opponents, Cliftonville, at The Oval.

The chasing pack need the Blues to drop points but they must also keep winning to exploit any slip-up from the Windsor Park men.

"There's a lot to play for with ourselves still in the Irish Cup and having a big say in the league," said McDermott.

"The league title is not over by any means. The top teams still have to play each other, we have to play Linfield twice, they have to play Larne twice.

"Everybody has to play everybody else. I think in previous years Linfield and Crusaders might have run away with it but the league has changed.

"With a nine-point gap or bigger you could say things are impossible but not this season. Anything can happen in a weekend."

The Glens supremo is now waiting patiently to see if the £36.2m of government money trickles into the Irish League.

McDermott, who has coached in America and the Middle East, doesn't pull any punches when he looks at the dilapidated state of our facilities.

Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey this week stated that football in Northern Ireland will receive investment but there is no guarantee that the finance will go to the original designated areas.

"With the funding it's a case of waiting in hope," added McDermott. "I think we are in the same boat as the other clubs. We are all hopeful of receiving the funding because there's no question the game needs it. We are quietly confident something will happen because it must happen. The league needs better facilities, not just Glentoran.

"I've said it before, we are a Third World football nation in terms of facilities. That's undeniable. Go and travel to other countries and see what they have.

"Go to Slovakia, Slovenia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden… I'm not talking about Germany, Spain or Portugal. I'm talking about smaller nations that we want to compete against in Europe.

"When I look at playing and training facilities, we have fallen way behind those countries."

Previously, a government consultation had recommended Glentoran receive an investment of £10m to upgrade The Oval.

"I've no idea how much money would be required to redevelop The Oval but it would be substantially more than the other clubs," added the Glens chief.

"Just to clear The Oval site would cost as much as other clubs to develop their grounds.

"Cliftonville, Coleraine and Crusaders may want to build new stands but we would require that amount to level our ground and take out the rubble and hill while raising the pitch six feet."

Some believe it's not simply improved facilities that can lift our game to a higher level.

The arguments for and against summer football rumble on with negotiations lasting longer than the Brexit talks.

Ballymena United and Glenavon are reluctant to move to a summer season while clubs chasing European success such as Linfield, Crusaders, Coleraine and Glentoran are open to an earlier start such as May or June.

Cliftonville are understood to be willing to consider any proposal on its merits, without adopting a formal position.

The Northern Ireland Football League floated the idea of a July 1 start but the Blues and Crues felt the early league games would clash with European qualifiers.

Whatever the new start date, if there is one, McDermott feels putting the season back is wise.

"I think there'll be a slight change, a one or two-month alteration bringing us into the summer," he said. "My personal choice would be a three-month change, start the season in May and finish at the end of January.

"But the clubs must agree. I think there is, at least, an understanding we want to keep the Boxing Day fixtures."

Another question is how summer football would be welcomed by players. Would they have to sacrifice their summer holidays having already waved farewell to any chance of a winter break?

Or would they welcome playing in better weather, though it must be said Northern Ireland has witnessed some considerable flooding in recent years over the summer months?

Glentoran striker Robbie McDaid says the players have little influence.

"It doesn't really matter what players think because clubs will make up their own minds," he said. "Clubs and fans will dictate what happens, players don't have much of a say and I'm not bothered when the games are played. I won't moan or groan about anything because clubs will do what suits them.

"Crusaders' Sean Ward spoke a few weeks ago and he said you can be match fit for games but there are levels to football and if you draw a Wolves or Malmo, an Irish League team will still struggle. As an employee of a business I will do what I'm told!"

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