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Out with the new and in with the old, but Ronnie still has bite

 

By Graham Luney

So, rumours of Ronnie McFall's retirement were greatly exaggerated.

We've all witnessed crazy Irish League behaviour so this should come as no surprise to anyone.

How could we expect a man who has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to the game to just simply walk off into the sunset and forget about it?

Like an ageing boxer whose fire still burns within, McFall still craves that adrenaline rush. The football drug is a hard one to shake off.

If you're not passionate about something it's a lot easier to walk away from it and, despite all the difficult times Ronnie experienced near the end of his time at Portadown, his passion for the game never faded.

And yet, when he decided to call it a day, he was adamant: "That's me, I'm finished, I've done my time."

His pride was hurt and not being able to leave the club he had given such incredible service to on his own terms left him sickened.

Still, he nearly made it 30 years as Portadown manager. If that's not worthy of a warm round of applause I don't know what is. Even the Queen, who gave him an MBE, was impressed.

Perhaps Ronnie's return is an indication he wants to put that right and end his managerial career on a more uplifting note.

He's not the long-term answer to Glentoran's problems but if performances improve between now and the end of the campaign - and whisper it quietly, if Irish Cup success or Europa League qualification follows - don't be surprised if Ronnie wants to stay around The Oval a little longer.

Football is in Ronnie's blood and, while he hasn't been able to return to Shamrock Park, he attended the Danske Bank Premiership launch with as keen an interest as anyone else.

He still attends matches and has found that in retirement he hasn't been able to find a like for like substitute to that Saturday when he can prowl on the touchline and give players and officials a piece of his mind.

But it was going to take a special opportunity to entice Ronnie back, and Glentoran are one of only a few clubs who could have twisted Ronnie's arm. It's a club where he won trophies as a player and manager and he understands the history and importance on the Irish League landscape.

Regardless of your opinion on the Glens, they remain one of the biggest and best supported clubs on this island.

Managers aren't just being patronising when they say our game will be healthier when the Glens - and Linfield - are going strong.

It's ironic, also, that McFall is returning to the scene of the crime - that 2015 Irish Cup final which left him cursing his luck when controversial refereeing helped the Glens edge out Portadown to claim the prize.

Not only did the Ports lose a major final, their European dream went up in smoke and the club never recovered.

While Portadown now languish in the Championship and battle financial woes, McFall has re-emerged to search for another day in the sun.

From Glentoran's perspective, it could be an inspired move. If you're looking for a steady hand then why not McFall (left), once dubbed by Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter as "the wisest snake in the grass"?

Surely that wealth of knowledge and experience will help calm troubled waters.

The Glens fans had lost patience with Gary Haveron and the board felt they had to act now. Ronnie can't wave a magic wand and turn the Glens into Barcelona but if the players can show a willingness to restore pride in the jersey then there could be a silver lining on this dark cloud.

This Irish League dinosaur isn't extinct yet, and I'm sure he hasn't lost his bite, but does his appointment, even as interim boss, highlight a lack of talented young managers?

I'm sure many aspects of the modern game sicken Ronnie, not least the lack of patience among fans and the unrelenting criticism of managers. He's happy to give Twitter a bye-ball and after the stick he got at the end of his Portadown reign he developed a very thick skin.

Glentoran fans aren't expecting Ronnie to mastermind another league title win but it's time to stop the rot at The Oval.

It would have been easy to decline the offer but it was one he couldn't refuse. It's out with the new and in with the old.

10 things about Ronnie McFall

Glentoran’s new interim manager, Ronnie McFall, has postponed his retirement. Here are 10 facts about the legendary boss.

1. Ronnie is one of the longest-serving managers in European football history. He became player-manager at Glentoran in 1979 and took charge until 1984. He later managed Portadown from 1986 until 2016. He led Glentoran to an unbeaten season in 1980-81 as they were crowned league champions. He also lifted the Irish Cup in 1983 along with a Gold Cup and Ulster Cup that season. In his 29 years in charge of the Ports, he claimed 23 trophies including four league titles and three Irish Cups.

2. He was born into a football family, his father and uncle played the game. After a trial with Arsenal, in August 1964 he made his debut for Portadown. Ronnie went to Dundee United and Ards before returning to his hometown club in 1968 where he went on to win the Gold Cup, Texaco Cup and Carlsberg Cup.

3. As a player, he signed for Glentoran in 1975 and the Glens won the league title as well as the Ulster Cup, Gold Cup and County Antrim Shield.

4. Ronnie was named Manager of the Year five times, in 1981, 1990, 1991, 1996 and 2002.

5. Ronnie’s nephew is Ross Redman, who now plays for Glentoran and played under his uncle at the Ports.

6. Upon his retirement in 2016, Ronnie had taken charge of 1,764 competitive games of which 1,483 were with Portadown.

7. In 2008 and in recognition of his services to Irish League football and the local community, Ronnie received an MBE from Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace.

8. In May last year, McFall was bestowed with the first ever Freedom of the Borough of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon. It is the highest honour any council can give. Ronnie received the award during a special ceremony in Craigavon Civic Centre on May 13.

9. Ronnie’s wife Anne has been a constant source of support throughout his career.

10. McFall has not returned to Shamrock Park since his painful exit in 2016. He left the club after an Irish Cup quarter-final defeat at home to Lurgan Celtic.

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