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Smyth decides time is right for him to lead his beloved Glens

 

By Graham Luney

Glentoran chiefs have finally got their man as Gary Smyth - who rejected their advances back in October, 2015 - yesterday agreed to step into the hotseat.

Smyth has quit as Harland & Wolf Welders boss and signed a three-year deal with the Glens.

Another Glentoran legend, Paul Leeman, will be part of the new set-up as a senior coach assigned with the task of developing young players.

Interim boss Ronnie McFall - who has all the necessary coaching qualifications - has agreed to remain at the club to work in a senior capacity, while the two former Glentoran comrades to go to work.

Smyth and Leeman will now set about attaining their A Licence qualifications while the Uefa Pro Licence is needed to take charge in Europe.

The Oval board were under pressure to make the right call after another frustrating campaign which saw the club lose yet another manager and fail to climb back into the Premiership's top six.

The arrival of Smyth and Leeman will be warmly welcomed by the supporters, many of whom remember watching two of the Irish League's greatest ever centre-backs wrestle with strikers while wearing the famous green, red and black jersey.

Smyth, 48, made 364 appearances for the Glens over three memorable spells, lifting 12 trophies including two leagues titles and two Irish Cup triumphs.

He also lifted the Irish Cup with Glenavon and Crusaders but most of his cherished moments came at the Glens.

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, leaving a club crying out for a steady hand on the wheel.

When the east Belfast side knocked on Smyth's door in 2015, he believed the timing wasn't right, citing his lack of coaching badges, but despite remaining at the Welders for four seasons, he never dropped off the Glens' wishlist.

Smyth, who guided the Welders to a stunning Steel and Sons Cup success in 2015, met with Glentoran directors after Patterson was dismissed but opted to remain at Tillysburn Park.

At the time, Smyth said: "Being manager of Glentoran is the right job for me, but it's the wrong time right now.

"If the job was to come up again in the future, I would also have more experience to take into it and be better equipped myself."

Smyth's decision to bring his former team-mate and Glentoran legend Leeman with him will see the fans' excitement reach fever pitch.

Leeman, who won four league titles in his 597 appearances for the Glens, was disappointed to leave the club in 2011 and he remains the last Oval skipper to lift the Gibson Cup in 2009.

The 40-year-old, who spent 15 years at the club, had already indicated he planned to take his Uefa 'A' Licence over the summer.

Smyth's arrival will be a huge relief to the Glens board who missed out on securing the services of Dungannon Swifts boss Rodney McAree and Ards chief Colin Nixon.

When asked about the Glentoran vacancy recently, Leeman said: "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."

As this new managerial set-up takes shape, doubt will inevitably be cast on the future role of Director of Football Coyle, the most successful manager in Irish League history.

When Smyth chose not to accept the Glentoran manager's position in 2015, there were claims he was uncomfortable working in partnership with Coyle who remained influential at the club.

Coyle may now move into a new position at The Oval but, for now, the club needs to find the right management structure.

Welders secretary Fred Magee confirmed the Championship side, who finished third last season, are losing their popular manager.

"The Glentoran chairman rang me in the morning and informed me of their interest in Gary and we would never stand in the way of someone progressing in their career," said Magee, who has worked alongside 18 managers over 49 years at the Shipyardmen.

"Gary spoke to me and explained he would be meeting the Glens and he has accepted the three-year deal on offer," he explained.

"I'm very disappointed and so are the players. I'm greedy and I wanted Gary to stay but he's a close friend and that will not change. I always want the best for him and if he feels it's the right time for him to move on then we wish him all the best and thank him for his hard work at the club.

"Glentoran have got someone who cares passionately about the club and on a personal level I'm delighted he has got this opportunity.

"Paul Leeman and Gary are close friends and I'm sure the Glens would like to see them work together."

Smyth factfile

Date of birth: December 20, 1969.

Place of birth: Belfast

Playing career: 1988-1995: Glentoran; 1995-2000: Glenavon; 2000-2004: Glentoran; 2004-2006: Ballymena United; 2006-2008: Glentoran; 2007: Crusaders (loan); 2008-2009: Crusaders.

Honours:

Glentoran: Irish League (1991/92, 2002-03), Irish Cup (2000/01, 2003/04), League Cup (1990/91, 2000/01, 2002/03, 2006/07); Gold Cup (991/92, 2000/01), County Antrim Shield (2000/01, 2001/02); Glenavon: Irish Cup (1996/97), Gold Cup (1997/98), County Antrim Shield (1995/96), Mid-Ulster Cup (1998/99), Floodlit Cup (1996/97); Crusaders: Irish Cup (2008/09).

Individual honours:

Ulster Footballer of the Year: 2003; Northern Ireland Football Writers' Player of the Year: 2003.

International record: Northern Ireland B International (1997); Under-18s.

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