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Mal Smith will be league’s best full-back and loan spell could help that path, says Glentoran manager Mick McDermott

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Glentoran's wanted man Mal Smith

Glentoran's wanted man Mal Smith

©INPHO/Philip Magowan

Glentoran manager Mick McDermott

Glentoran manager Mick McDermott

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Glentoran's wanted man Mal Smith

Rising star Mal Smith may have been involved in both legs of Glentoran’s Europa Conference League venture against The New Saints, but he could well be on his way out of The Oval.

The 20-year-old produced an outstanding performance in the east Belfast team’s home tie against the Welsh League outfit – a game that finished 1-1 which kept the Glens on course for a money-spinning second-round slot.

But their dream ended in Thursday night’s 2-0 defeat, courtesy of goals from Declan McManus – a spot-kick which was his first since a £60,000 move from Dunfermline – and Leo Smith, who also scored a wonder goal at The Oval.

The Saints now face Lithuanian side Kauno Zalgiris in the second round.

Smith replaced Caolan Marron on 67 minutes and turned in another composed, competent display, which pleased boss Mick McDermott, who admitted he will assess his squad now that their European venture is over.

“We’ve had a couple of requests for Mal to go out on loan,” he said. “That potentially was the plan. When our squad is available, sometimes it’s difficult for certain players to get in.

“Now that Europe is over, we will make decisions in terms of who we intend to bring in and who potentially will stay, but Mal is one player that could go out to play for another team just to get a full season into his legs.

“I said after he played in the County Antrim Shield Final last year (against Larne), I think he will probably develop into the best full-back in the League over the next year or two.

“The thing about Mal is he cannot only play full-back, but he can also play in the centre of midfield. Sometimes in a game, he plays both because he drifts in and out of those positions.

“He is only 20 and he has a great future in front of him. He missed last year because of the Covid situation, he just couldn’t get into the team, which was disappointing for him. He could stay with us, once we see the make-up of the squad, or he could go out on loan.

“We’ll see what new faces arrive at the club and then we’ll make a decision then.”

The imminent return of fan favourite Hrvoje Plum could also influence McDermott’s decision on Smith.

Having recovered from a cruciate ligament injury, the big Croatian midfielder sustained another knee injury against Cliftonville at Solitude in the latter part of the season.

McDermott added: “Hrvoje had a little meniscus problem. He was out, of course, with a cruciate problem last year. Usually after a meniscus injury, you would be back within a month, but the medical people didn’t want to rush him because of his previous injury.

“They wanted him to take his time. He’s now back into full training. The European games came too soon for him, but he’ll be back for the start of the season.

“I knew there was a risk playing him on that surface at Solitude and he only lasted 10 minutes. I was kicking myself afterwards. Thankfully, they’ve now got a new pitch down.”

McDermott believes the coming season will be one of the most hotly contested League campaigns in memory.

“It’s going to be a belter, I can’t wait,” added McDermott. “I think we have broken the record for the sale of season tickets. I think it could be a cracking season. If the boys up on the hill could open the purses and get the local grounds updated, it would be great.

“The feeling I get is we are on the cusp of something special in the Irish League.”


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