If the signing of Antonio Candreva was an indication of giving realism the boot then this update takes realism and gives it a proper hoof into touch for a goal kick.
Our exploits in Europe have left the club with £6 million burning a hole in our pockets and I’ll be damned if we’re not going to enjoy it.
The first signing of this window is a typical fmadventure signing. 19 year old Liam Maguire has bags of potential and an absolute steal as we bag him on a free at the expiration of his contract with League of Ireland side Limerick. Unfortunately Limerick have just been relegated but Maguire’s 11 goals in 35 games for them at such a raw age shows he has big things to come.
When Arturo Vidal and Keisuke Honda became available, I couldn’t help but to move for them. Both, along with Antonio Candreva, are set to retire at the end of this season but I’m hoping I can make use of them on and off the pitch for the remaining six months of their careers. Just look at how versatile Vidal is… a thing of beauty!
There were two deadline day departures from The Oval. Firstly, Tom Adeyemi was shifted on to Dumbarton on a free transfer in order to free up some of the wage budget for our new big name signings. Following that, we allowed Conor Bradley to move on to free-spending Larne. Larne made an offer totalling £500k and that profit margin on a free signing just 18 months earlier was hard to turn down!
It seems most appropriate to get the European business out of the way before discussing how things went domestically. Given an amazingly difficult tie against Fiorentina, it won’t be surprising to note that we exited the competition in the First Knockout Round – although I should note their two late goals did come as a result of counter attacks following our decision to go all out to try and level the tie.
We kicked off the New Year with a 4-0 victory over local side Dundela, sadly this marked Conor Bradley’s last goals for the club before his month toward the end of the month. On the road again, we made short work of Ballymena as a total of six different goalscorers put them to the sword – Liam Maguire scoring his first Glentoran goal.
Cliftonville came to The Oval and gave us their best performance against us in a long time, sadly for them, it still wasn’t enough and Niklas Haugland’s goal was the difference. Buoyed by our current winning streak (9 wins in a row, unbeaten in 14) we went out with confidence and secured our second competition win of the season with a 2-0 win in the County Antrim Shield against Larne.
We had to come from behind against Glenavon to steal a point, gifting Glenavon the chance to remain in a potential title race for now. Our frustrations were simply moved on to be taken out on Crusaders as we pushed them aside with ease to claim the two goal victory.
We marched on in the Irish Cup as Keisuke Honda scored his first Glentoran goal in a 4-0 win over Portadown – no, it wasn’t a freekick! A short trip to Larne in the league provided only our second league loss this season, the previous loss being another 1-0 loss to Larne at Inver Park…
Perhaps this put some self doubt in our minds as we really struggled against Crusaders in the NIFL Cup Final, needing extra time for Ciaran McKenna to find the winner with his headed attempt. Still, three cups, three wins so far.
Liam Maguire was given a 90 minutes against Portadown and showed why I moved for him as he bagged his first hattrick for the club before we travelled to Windsor Park to record yet another victory over Big Two rivals Linfield. You have to go back to December 2020 to find the last time Linfield managed to win one of these derby fixtures.
Ballymena’s two late goals sent our knees knocking ever so slightly but we held tight to ensure passage through to the semi-final of the Irish Cup! The Newry match was almost a carbon copy as we raced into an easy three goal lead before sitting back and almost allowing them back into it! A short footballing month for March ended with a confident 3-0 win away to Carrick to inch us ever closer to a second consecutive league title as we entered the post split fixtures.
Larne, bloody Larne! Our, now, closest rivals for the title. A win would have left us needing simply a point in our next game to win the league but Larne were not ready to lie down as they condemned us to our third league defeat of the season – all three, incredibly, taking place at Larne’s Inver Park!
It looked for a while that the same was about to happen in our Irish Cup Semi-Final fixture with Larne but Haugland and Maguire came through in extra time to put us through to our third consecutive Irish Cup Final!
Ballymena came to the East but were sent back with a mere consolation goal. Glenavon were next and at this point, all that was required was a point to secure the league title – a point was not on our minds and Liam Maguire, Chris Conn-Clarke and Jake Collum sealed the title in emphatic fashion with a 3-0 win. TWO IN A ROW!
With the league won and an Irish Cup Final to come, I chose to rotate some of the squad for the next two fixtures and move things around tactically. Maybe the lads had already given up and were celebrating too heavily as we only managed a point over two games – although that point was enough to ensure we set the record high for points gained in a Irish Premiership season with 92.
As always, the season ends with the showpiece of local football – the Irish Cup Final! This is our third consecutive Irish Cup Final, all three against a Mid-Ulster side and the second of those against Glenavon. It’s a chance for revenge after Glenavon’s win over us last year ruined our chance of a domestic clean sweep!
In front of a bumper crowd of over 15k, we outplayed Glenavon from start to finish to secure the club’s 24th Irish Cup win! This Irish Cup win provides us with a clean sweep of domestic trophies along with the All-Ireland Champions Cup making a beautifully named Quintet!
I’m not one to claim reserve and youth victories as my own but it is worth mentioning that our Seconds team also nabbed the NI Intermediate Cup while the U18’s won their league at a canter. The future’s bright, the future is
orange red, green and black!
I always like to end the season with a quick look through the individual player stats across key areas. Partly to try and identify any areas we may be lacking in but mostly just for pure vanity.
I don’t really like to rotate my goalkeepers, so it’s no surprise to see Aston Oxborough play a total of 71 games through this season. He’s managed 32 clean sheets but the fact that his average rating is indicative of some of his performances. An increasing number of the 65 goals he did concede came by way of means that I feel he should have done better – near post shots, fumbles. I may look to upgrade on him in the near future.
Conor Pepper leads the way again in assists from right back with 24 in his 54 appearances. It’s not just full back hackz, it’s also set piece delivery hacks…
Niklas Haugland claims the top goalscorer award for his 38 goals in 58 games played, averaging 2.6 shots on target per 90 mins played.
However, my player of the season goes to Jake Collum. Still only 19 years old, the left winger has contributed 22 goals and a further 21 assists over his 49 matches. He covers the most ground per 90 mins, which is no surprise when you see how he marauds in from the left hand side toward goal. He is also the most creative player in the team with 2.26 Key Passes per 90min and 1.13 chances created per 90 min. It’s not just his attacking output that is to be admired but also his ability in winning the ball back with 2.29 tackles per game.