Simplicity, shape and straight talking – it’s great to have Big Ronnie back… at ANY AGE

“Alright lads…”

It was clear by the tone of his voice that Ronnie McFall had a bone to pick.

Not just any old bone. This was a bone the size of Moby Dick’s rib cage.

A gaggle of journalists had been in the process of interviewing Cliftonville boss Barry Gray when the newly appointed Glentoran manager strode into the room.

Picture Cherokee Bill ambling into a saloon of fur trappers in Dodge.

The Glens had just won their first game on McFall’s watch, but it was clear the impressive 1-0 scoreline wasn’t at the forefront of his mind.

Peering down on the reporters scattered around a makeshift interview table in the bowels of The Oval, the veteran coach’s opening salvo bristled with meaning.

“Right, wait till I tell youse boys something,” he declared.

“Before youse start, right… I’m SEVENTY. Yet, every time I lift the paper, I’m 72.

“Know what I mean? What are youse at?”

His gaze met mine as the words ‘what are youse at’ scuttled across the room.

Presumably for somewhere to cower and hide.

Cue an instinctive (and rather pathetic) response.

“We couldn’t.. we couldn’t find a birth date.. we looked everywhere.”

Ronnie USE NEW

SOMEWHAT mercifully, Ronnie saw the funny side of reporters getting his age wrong in the morning newspapers

Truth be told,it was the only defence I had.

Mercifully, the inadvertent suggestion that perhaps even the Domesday Book of 1086 would fail to turn up a birth date for local football’s elder statesman broke the ice.

A broad, disarming smile lit up McFall’s face and he surrendered himself to a warm chuckle. He laughed heartily at the thought.

Crisis averted by a comedic interlude.

Reds boss Gray, struggling to process the dark frustration of a fourth defeat in seven games at the other end of the table, contributed to the levity.

“I’m 38 Ronnie, but I feel like 72, if that’s any use to you,” he mused.

Big Ronnie may be 70, but while others of a similar vintage shuffle towards the questionable embrace of retirement, he’s back confronting the coalface.

Glentoran were in need and he answered their call.

And why wouldn’t he?

Sir Alex Ferguson was a year older when he stepped down as Manchester United manager in 2013.

Sir Bobby Robson was 71 when he departed Newcastle United in 2004.

And Arsene Wenger, still chasing dreams and dividing opinion at Arsenal, is 68.

Age is no barrier to strong willed individuals who love the game and it’s an unexpected gift to see Ronnie gently chastising hacks and winning games of football again.

Following a two year break – after calling time on his remarkable 29-year Portadown reign in March 2016 – he looks healthy, refreshed and full of intent.

He boasts the same presence he once held at Shamrock Park.

When he walks into a room, you know he’s there.

Like a wrecking ball in a bric-a-brac shop, he commands your attention.

He has also made an instant impact at The Oval.

Some doubted the wisdom of his appointment when he was asked to replace the departed Gary Haveron and take up the Glentoran reins until the summer.

Online, some fans claimed the Mersey Street club had finally “lost the plot”.

Others said his management style was from a bygone era; that his old school approach was too primitive to elicit a response from a youthful, modern changing room.

Think Sinatra and Stormzy. Yet just a fortnight after replacing Haveron, a new positive mood pervades The Oval. Belief too.

His record so far reads: Played two. Won two. Two clean sheets.

A 1-0 win over Cliftonville and last week’s 5-0 thumping of Warrenpoint Town is the first time since August the Glens have won back-to-back in the league.

It is also the first time since last April the Big Two giants have recorded successive home wins in the Danske Bank Premiership.

Defender Willie Garrett believes McFall has taken the Glens “back to basics”, while key striker Curtis Allen says everyone knows their jobs in a new, flat 4-4-2 formation.

“He goes around everyone and tells us what he expects of us,” revealed Allen. “If you all know your jobs, there can be no excuses afterwards.”

Talented midfielder John McGuigan added: “We have worked a lot on shape. A tight unit when we don’t have possession.. keeping our shape when we have the ball.”

Simplicity, shape, work ethic and structure.

And to think some try to present modern day football as a mathematical equation.

The Oval

ACCORDING to key players at The Oval, McFall has taken the Glens “back to basics” – and it has paid early dividends

Difficult hurdles lie ahead – of course they do. Glentoran’s three remaining games before the split are Glenavon (A), Linfield (A) and Ballymena United (H).

File that under T for tough.

But they’ve given themselves a battling chance of securing a top-six finish at the expense of Ballymena who lie five points below in seventh with two games in hand.

An Irish Cup quarter-final at Coleraine also lies in wait on Tuesday evening.

There is still much to play for in East Belfast.

So, what happens if McFall wins two thirds of his remaining league games, fuels momentum, builds morale and takes the Glens to the blue riband final?

Would he be tempted to stay on?

“No, no, no, no,” he replied after that recent Cliftonville win.

As he spoke, he lifted himself from his chair and angled for the nearest exit.

Interview over.

The summer it is then.

The inimitable McFall will head for exit stage left after a short two month cameo and Glentoran will be looking for a new long term boss come the end of the season.

Whatever happens between now and May, his reputation as one of local football’s greatest ever managers – The Godfather, according to David Jeffrey – will remain intact.

According to eminent Irish League statistician Marshall Gillespie, this Saturday’s trip to Glenavon will be his 1,750th game in a dugout.

Last week’s win over Warrenpoint was his 935th as a manager.


And in case you were wondering, his date of birth is: October 3, 1947.

That makes him 70.

Not 72.

Just for future reference.

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