Fewer options for Glentoran means a sharper focus on the forthcoming Play-Off games, insists manager Mick McDermott.
Just a few weeks ago, the Glens were sitting joint top of the Danske Bank Premiership and had just won an Irish Cup Quarter-Final.
But their expulsion over the ineligibility of Joe Crowe prompted a loss of form that saw the Glens drop out of contention for the title as well as missing out on the Cup.
However, the East Belfast side have home advantage in Tuesday’s Semi-Final with Glenavon and, should they progress, The Oval will also host Friday night’s decider, with McDermott preparing for what he terms “two World Cup Finals”.
And while acknowledging the damage done by the expulsion from the Cup, he says he will have no problems lifting his players for the crucial Play-Offs.
“There was definitely a clear mood shift at the club for a couple of weeks, but you cannot dwell on it forever,” reflected McDermott.
“You have to move on and when your options are limited, your focus is better. At the start of the season we had four routes to Europe — now we have only one. You have a sharper focus when you only have one choice and the players realise that. This is it, you have to go for it.
“We have to be able to compete and are fully motivated, but I would be surprised if that wasn’t the case for the other teams in the Play-Offs.
“Some of the teams involved may have been praying for the Play-Offs from the start of the season, that might have been their aim and they have their opportunity now.
“But it won’t be hard for me to pick my players up for them, the hunger to do well is there. We have a Semi-Final and potentially a Final to qualify for Europe.
“Okay, you don’t get a trophy and a day out, but the outcome is the same; qualification for Europe, and that is our aim.
“I’m not knocking the Irish Cup, far from it, it’s a great day out, but what I am saying is it produces the same result as winning the European Play-Offs.”
Apart from long-term casualty Luke McCullough, Sean Murray is Glentoran’s only injury concern as he has an inflamed hip.
There have been issues about the pitch at The Oval in recent weeks but McDermott insists he is delighted to have secured home advantage for the Play-Offs thanks to a third-place finish in the Premiership.
“The pitch has improved in the last couple of weeks and that’s great because it was frustrating, at times the players felt like they were fighting the ball,” he added.
“Home advantage is a good thing, playing at The Oval is always good for us and our supporters, you get a good crowd, which the players like.
“There is obviously also a financial gain from playing at home so we have to enjoy playing there.
“It has been a long two and a half years for the club because with Covid affecting the season timetable and playing in Europe, you don’t get much game time.
“But on the flip side, the players are match fit and don’t require too much conditioning.”