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Peter McCann: Helping Portadown to the league title was huge thrill but I should have taken the risk of professional football

 

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Peter McCann played for Portadown, Glentoran, Lisburn Distillery, Newry City, Glenavon and Donegal Celtic.

Peter McCann played for Portadown, Glentoran, Lisburn Distillery, Newry City, Glenavon and Donegal Celtic.

Freddie Parkinson

Glory days: Peter McCann won the Irish League title with Portadown in 2002

Glory days: Peter McCann won the Irish League title with Portadown in 2002

Peter McCann played for Portadown, Glentoran, Lisburn Distillery, Newry City, Glenavon and Donegal Celtic.

With Irish League football left playing the waiting game due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday Life has delved into the archives.

In the latest chapter of a new summer seriesAlex Mills scrutinises former Portadown, Glentoran and Lisburn Distillery favourite Peter McCann, who recalls adapting to life after being released by Blackburn Rovers and his regret at not snatching a second full-time shot.

Your most thrilling footballing memory?

The final day of the 2001-02 Irish League campaign was an occasion I'll never forget.

It went right down to the wire, we (Portadown) had to beat Cliftonville to be crowned champs.

There was a helicopter scrambled to take the trophy to Shamrock Park or to Belfast as Glentoran were only one point behind us - and hoping for a slip-up.

The final whistle was just pure relief and elation. The Reds scored first and part of their celebration was to look up to the sky (for the helicopter) with imaginary binoculars.

It was tongue in cheek stuff, but we hit back with three goals from Gary Hamilton, Vinny Arkins and Cullen Feeney.

We operated with a squad of around only 15 players for the entire season, it's something that wouldn't happen these days.

We had 11 that played nearly every single game, we were probably lucky with injuries. It was an amazing experience with a great bunch of lads - we were untouchable that year.

Your worst moment?

For about three seasons, we really punched above our weight at Lisburn Distillery.

We had a cracking team that played the best football in the League. But having qualified for Europe quite a few times, Paul Kirk was unceremoniously sacked.

No one could understand the motive behind it. He had built a great young team. From that point, the club folded like a ton of bricks. From finishing third in the table one season to near relegation the next - it was unbelievable.

Everything about the club - the playing staff, the coaching team and the infrastructure - simply disintegrated.

For years, we were such a tight-knit group that played for each other, but we had it taken away from us. The team could have gone further had they kept Kirk in place.

Before that, when I signed for Glentoran, things started off really well, but it was all downhill after that.

Roy Coyle brought me to The Oval but, when he got the sack, I suppose other managers had their own thoughts on what players they wanted. It just didn't work out on a personal level.

Most difficult opponent?

Without doubt, Gary Hamilton was a class, class act.

I played with him for some time and I also played against him loads of times. He was a phenomenal talent, he really was.

I played with him at youth level and we were both at Blackburn Rovers, so I knew quite a bit about him.

If Gary was on his game and his head was right, he was unplayable. For me, he was always head and shoulders above everyone else.

Glenn Ferguson was a different type of player than Gary. He was strong and physical and you couldn't afford to give him an inch inside the box.

If you were a yard off him and he got to the ball first, you knew it was going into the top corner.

So, for different reasons, both of those players stood out. But for me, Gary was the master. He had the talent to play in England for his entire career.

Person who was your biggest influence?

I would have to say it was my former Lisburn Distillery boss Paul Kirk.

Fortunately, I played under Ronnie McFall and Roy Coyle but, when I went to Distillery, Paul was the person who understood football the way I understood it.

It was similar to how I was coached in England.

Paul's son, Andy, played across the water and Paul used to visit him a lot. He garnered information about training methods and he implemented those at the Whites.

So what he did with minimal resources was along the same lines of what they were used to at Blackburn.

He brought a professionalism that was carried right throughout the club, from training to the kit, right down to how we dressed in shirt and ties on match days.

Paul was always pushing for an infrastructure to be put in place to help the team to progress.

He always encouraged us to play football, get the ball down to our feet and pass it. It was always more suitable to my game. We had a group of players that all bought into that.

Biggest regret?

The one regret I have is that I missed out on a possible chance to get back to England in 2002.

I returned to Portadown from Blackburn and I was really flying and enjoying it.

Sheffield United came in for me and offered me a trial. But as I was relishing it at Shamrock Park, I just didn't want to take the risk of the full-time game again just in case I failed.

I played it safe. Looking back, perhaps something would have happened if I had taken the chance.

My mentality was I was a big fish in a small pond over here whereas, had I gone to Sheffield, I would have been a small fish in a big pond.

I was in a comfort zone but, in all honesty, I didn't want to fail again. I thought I had let myself down by not being offered a new contract at Rovers. I felt I could end up back in that same place again.

So I didn't take the risk. But that's part of life.

What would you change to make the Irish League more appealing?

I think summer football would be a huge asset for the game.

There is no question the Irish League has improved enormously both on and off the pitch in recent years but, to me, the current format is still a bit dated.

When you look at the League down south, you can see how they are reaping the benefits, especially the crowds they get.

Obviously, clubs are sustained by people coming through the gates. I think summer football would attract bigger crowds which would help clubs develop a more full-time approach.

It will take a brave decision to change the current format. There is a small-minded mentality that prevents the League from progressing.

I think that too many are caught in the trap that football should be played on Saturday at 3pm - some clubs are afraid of the unknown.

Belfast Telegraph