Irish League legend Ronnie McFall says the Big Two rivalry is alive again and he’s predicting Glentoran will be a “big threat” to champions Linfield next season.
The Glens are still on a high after lifting the Irish Cup and bagging their first trophy since 2015. That sweet success over Ballymena United in last Friday’s decider also secured Europa League football and now the dream target for the east Belfast giants is a first league championship since 2009.
McFall finished his playing career at Glentoran and also had two spells in charge of the club.
In a glorious five-year spell from 1979, he guided the Glens to six trophies including the Irish League and the Irish Cup.
He went on to lead his hometown club Portadown to 23 trophies including four league titles during an almost 30-year reign, which ended in 2016. McFall, who was tempted out of retirement after Gary Haveron’s Oval dismissal in February 2018, now expects Mick McDermott’s side to pack a big punch next season.
“We will see how the transfer window goes but as it stands I feel the next title could be between Linfield and Glentoran,” said McFall after the club’s 23rd Irish Cup win. “I think Glentoran, with the investment since Ali Pour’s takeover, are definitely going to be a big threat from here on.
“There is no dispute they will go for the title and they have already added players. That strengthening will continue and it could be a tight championship. The teams going full-time will have a massive advantage.”
Glentoran still have some ground to make up on the pitch before they can knock Linfield off their perch but the Big Two rivalry seems to be back with a vengeance and some interesting transfer activity has grabbed headlines.
While the Glens snapped up Northern Ireland international Luke McCullough, Jamie McDonagh and Rory Brown, Linfield persuaded Oval duo Navid Nasseri and Conor Pepper to move to Windsor Park.
“I saw Linfield sign two Glentoran players and it happens all the time,” added McFall.
“It’s the nature of the business, it’s dog eat dog and clubs want to sign the best players.
“That won’t change. The Linfield-Glentoran rivalry has always been there but the Glens have never had the finance to compete with the Blues.
“Now they have that finance, they are going to be a big challenge and threat to Linfield.
“I was delighted to see Glentoran win the trophy.
“Ballymena played well on the night but I felt Glentoran had that bit extra threat you need up front.”
Robbie McDaid’s extra-time winner was the dramatic late twist following a week of enthralling Cup action, kicking off with last Monday’s semi-finals.
“All credit to (IFA president) David Martin and the Irish FA for getting the games played,” added McFall, an Irish League winner with the Glens in 1977.
“The IFA get a lot of stick but they couldn’t have handled the difficult situation any better. We even saw a few fans attend the final, which was a first for the UK during this Covid-19 crisis.
“It’s not the same when the crowd is limited but I still thought the games were of a high quality, particularly the Glentoran v Cliftonville semi-final. Considering the players have not been playing competitively for so long, I was impressed with the way the teams got the ball down and played good football. Penalty kicks are then a lottery.”
Ports legend McFall was thrilled to see his old club win the Championship and return to the big time.
“I was glad to see the Ports get up again, they have always been well supported so they will bring a good support to the matches they are playing,” he added.
“I do understand Institute’s frustration and it’s been a strange situation. The football authorities have to do what they feel is best for the game.”
• League One clubs Blackpool and Oxford United are being linked with a move for Glentoran frontman Paul O’Neill.