At the beginning of my fifth season with Glentoran, I feel it a good time to take stock of the progress and look at what comes next.
2022/23 (Season Four) took our total trophy count up to 10, in no small part due to our domestic clean sweep of trophies last season. It’s clear that we’re now in a position to dominate on the pitch and, with an unprecedented £20m in our bank balance, very secure off the pitch also.
With this in mind, it’s time to condense the usual season update before discussing what my plans are for the future.
The summer transfer moves started before last season had even ended with pre-contract deals agreed with Umaro Landim (Wolves), Jack Clarke (Luton Town) and Stephen Coyle (Crusaders). Landim and Clarke were free transfers but the Coyle move cost us a handsome fee of £250k – our highest transfer paid but one which I feel will definitely be paid off in no time.
I brought in promising full back Danny Lally (Cobh Ramblers) for the paltry sum of £3.7k alongside my two newest elder statesmen: Craig Cathcart and Blaise Matuidi – both on free transfers although Matuidi not joining until October!
Fast forward to January and there were a further three additions to the squad. Making moves to strengthen from within the league is a double-edged sword for the opposition as it also weakens their own options. As such I was delighted to bring in NI-U21 internationals Barry Lavery (£60k from Glenavon) and Jamie Murphy (free from Crusaders). A final move was made to secure a next level player in Rubinho (Tottenham), on a loan for the remainder of the season.
With so many players in, it may be surprising that there was only one outgoing transfer, but it was a major one. 20 year old Jake Collum came to us in January 2022 on a free transfer from Plymouth and I said at the time that I envisaged him moving on before long. So, after 46 goals in 107 games from the left of midfield, Collum has moved on to Scottish giants Rangers for an incredible fee of £1.2m – an amount that was far too good to turn down. When English-born Collum first arrived he was a promising U21 international for Northern Ireland but his stock has risen so much that he now feels confident of breaking into the England national squad.
The league was always going to be a formality in my eyes. We were on fire from the point the season kicked off, only incurring one loss, at the hands of Crusaders in early December. As you can see below, we simply just blew most teams away with ease managing to score 5 or more goals in ten different league games.
Oh, and don’t forget to raise a glass to state-funded Linfield who will be plying their trade in the Championship next season…
We went one further than last season’s European exploits by qualifying for the Champions League group stage! One win from six matches left us bottom of the group but a proud showing, particularly in managing to score 5 goals against Atlético and 3 against Chelsea alongside our 5-1 victory away at Zenit.
For the first time since the opening season, we have fallen short in the NIFL Cup. Knocked out convincingly in the Quarter Final by Ballymena. There will be no clean sweep this season…
The disappointments are few and far between though. A third consecutive County Antrim Shield win to take back to The Oval. Stephen Coyle was the hero of the final against his former club.
The Scottish Challenge Cup yielded success for a Northern Irish side for the first time! Some very pleasing results against potentially challenging opposition, particularly that semi-final outcome.
The Irish Champions Cup final was a truly epic encounter. After a 1-1 draw at The Oval, we found ourselves 3-1 down in the second leg at Oriel Park by Half Time. Up stepped Stephen Coyle who put on a second half master class to bring home the trophy and maintain our 100% success rate in the competition.
Champions League progress, Scottish Challenge Cup and All Ireland Cup wins are great but the Irish Cup will always be a special competition for me, and this is why I’ve left it to last. We met old foes Glenavon in the final and played out a spectacle for the 16,650 fans in attendance.
Another five medals to add to the collection in my fifth season at Glentoran. The squad is brimming with players who could be considered key to the efforts, and the stats show as much.
Another 71 appearances for Aston Oxborough, a player I had considered replacing. To my knowledge, the English goalkeeper hasn’t missed a minute of football since signing in January 2021.
Ciaran McKenna topped the tables in headers won/90min (7.83) and interceptions/90min (5.20). Jack Lee a close second behind him in both counts.
New boy Umaro Landim led the way in assists with 31 in his 52 appearances, with a further 10 goals for himself. Jake Collum’s 19 assists and 17 goals in 42 appearances before his January move cannot be ignored either.
Up front, the gamble on Coyle paid off massively. The 20 year old registered 52 goals of his own in 62 appearances with a further 17 assists laid on for his team mates. Pavel Macej came roaring back from his serious 6 month injury last season to bag 40 goals and 20 assists in 50 appearances.
One name you will notice is Choy Yiu Fai – a Belfast born striker with Hong Kong dual nationality. He came through in this year’s Youth Intake and has been bled into the senior squad in the latter stages, grabbing himself 3 goals and 3 assists in 2 league appearances. Very much one I expect a lot from in the near future.
A New Adventure
I can honestly say that I didn’t expect to become this dominant with Glentoran just five seasons in. The European money makes such a massive difference but it was also just a matter of picking up the right players at the right time.
At this stage there are usually a few options available to keeping the save challenging. One is to try and spread the wealth in the league and raise the country’s reputation to compete better in Europe. Sadly, I don’t subscribe to such philanthropic methods.
When Michael O’Neill resigned from his role as Northern Ireland manager in November 2023, it felt like the challenge I needed.
So, what is my aim from here? I don’t have grand ideas of winning major international titles. What I do want to do is to nurture a player through to become Northern Ireland’s new record goalscorer. I want that player to come from Glentoran.
From here, I feel that there are two obvious candidates: Stephen Coyle (signed from Crusaders) or Choy Yiu Fai (GFC Academy Graduate). May the best man win…