It was once an institution, but it’s now one of the Irish League’s also-rans.
The demise of Glentoran Football Club last week hit new depths when not only one, but two of the country’s brightest up-and-coming young managers turned down the chance to take charge on Mersey Street.
Rodney McAree deciding to remain at Dungannon Swifts perhaps wasn’t such a startling move, but when one of Glentoran’s own thumbed his nose, it was the final insult.
Colin Nixon, who made a record number of appearances for the club — pulling on the famous red, green and black shirt on 794 occasions — walked away from a meeting with the Glentoran board unconvinced it would have been the right decision to put pen to paper.
Instead, the 39-year-old signed a new three-year contract to remain at Ards, where he has a blueprint in place to take the club forward.
It was a decision that Stephen Henderson and his board didn’t see coming. The reality is Glentoran is a club with a big history, but nothing else.
Since Roy Coyle, currently the Director of Football at The Oval, departed in 2006, Paul Millar, the late Alan McDonald, Scott Young, Eddie Patterson, Alan Kernaghan and Gary Haveron have all vacated the post. Perhaps that tells its own story.
Paul Leeman, who won four League titles in his 597 appearances for the Glens, admitted he was stunned when his former team-mate snubbed the manager’s position.
“I thought Nicky was a shoo-in for the job once his name came up,” said Leeman, who left the east Belfast outfit back in 2011.
“The club has gone through quite a few managers since Coyler left and that’s not really the Glentoran way.
“Yes, Eddie Patterson brought a certain degree of success by winning the Irish Cup on two occasions, but the team hasn’t really challenged in the League for some time.
“It’s not a good scenario when people are turning down the job. Realistically, apart from Gary Smyth, who is managing H&W Welders, there is no one out there that fits the bill — although I know Gary had issues over his coaching badges.
“I think it’s important the new manager has some identity with the club. But questions also have to be asked of the board. Are they selling the club properly?
“When two of the best young managers in the country snub the club, it’s a concern and a worry.
“Perhaps the timing wasn’t right for Nicky. I know he has laid a good foundation at Ards, from the Academy right up to the first team. He obviously knows the potential there, so it’s not unfair for him to stay on and see it through.”
Leeman believes there is no quick fix. Ronnie McFall was parachuted in to steady the ship after the sacking of Haveron, but there doesn’t appear to be a ready-made replacement.
He added: “At this moment in time, it would be beneficial for big Ronnie to stay on until issues are resolved. It will not happen overnight.
“Glentoran is an institution — a club steeped in history and tradition. It will take a long time to get the club back to where it belongs in Irish League football. It’s a huge challenge.
“I love the club and it really angers me to see them lagging in the bottom six in the table. The home form has been a concern all season — and that’s just not Glentoran. The Oval was always a fortress, no team liked coming to east Belfast.
“It will be a long project getting the club back up there challenging again. For next season, regardless of who takes on the post, a place in the top six is a priority. Then it’s a building process after that.
“The money involved in European football is scary, but that’s where Glentoran need to get to if they are to be a force again.
“Let’s face it, the Irish League needs a good, strong Glentoran team and, even though they are big rivals, Linfield needs a strong Glentoran team.
“The Big Two have been overshadowed in recent years as the Crusaders/Cliftonville games have become the high-profile derby matches. Even the Coleraine/Ballymena United clashes are more appealing. So it’s in everyone’s interest to get the Glens back up there challenging.”
Leeman, who spent 15 years at the club, admits it’s a job that he would relish sometime in the future, adding: “I’m taking my UEFA ‘A’ Licence over the summer. Maybe a few years down the line... you never know.”