'Don't let them change you' - the advice inspiring Mick McDermott as he leads Glentoran's resurgence
When Mick McDermott took over as manager of Glentoran, he did so with the words of an experienced former colleague at the forefront of his mind.
While unfamiliar with the Irish League at the time of his appointment last March, the Belfast native did have plenty of experience of tackling new challenges having been on a coaching journey that had taken in the US and the Middle East, as well as the Iran national team.
"An older man I used to work with, who had travelled the world, once gave me a piece of advice about how to approach going to work in a new country," explained McDermott.
"He always said 'don't try to change them, but don't allow them to change you'. That has to be the priority, he said.
"So when I go into any job, I just do what I do. If that's appealing to people then great, but, if it's not, well I don't really know how else to be."
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While many Glenmen may have been sceptical at first, McDermott certainly is appealing to the Oval fan base as he leads a long-awaited resurgence in east Belfast.
Significant recruitment in the summer has seen McDermott's side enjoy a strong first half of the season, with the latest signpost of their upwards trajectory coming when they went top of the Irish Premiership table last Saturday for the first time since September 2013.
'Celebrate the good times'
Their stay at the top may have been short-lived - Linfield replaced them on Monday night by beating Cliftonville - but the manager has encouraged his players to enjoy the air of positivity they have generated around Mersey Street.
"I always tell my players to celebrate the good times as much as they want, because in this game there are far more times of despair," he said.
"Players and managers go through whole careers without winning anything. Look at how few managers have won the Irish League in the last 20 years. You should enjoy the good times when they come."
McDermott led by example in the celebration stakes after the Glens' Boxing Day win over Linfield, and was able to watch himself in action on social media the next day.
"Yes, I saw a few videos," he said, laughing. "Just to reassure everyone, I was stone-cold sober as it was just a five-minute stop-over at a supporters' club that my wife and I made on the way home.
"We were invited to call in and, of course, someone throws me up on their shoulders and they stick a mic in my hand. I said a few things and I enjoyed the five minutes I was in there. It was a nice moment."
'Glentoran are back…. to being competitive'
The Glens' return to the top of the table - albeit for just over 48 hours - capped an impressive run of form that has seen them go unbeaten in 14 games and meant they were at the league summit at this stage of a season for the first time in a decade.
Given the on and off-pitch troubles which the club has experienced in the 11 years since they last lifted the Gibson Cup, it generated plenty of 'Glentoran are back' commentary across a range of media platforms.
McDermott does not shy away from the importance of going top for the supporters and club volunteers, though insisted that the players, and more so the coaching staff, would not lose perspective.
"Technically, we are back - back from where the club has been for the last six or seven years," McDermott added. "Does that mean back to winning things? No, but we are back to being competitive, and I always said that one of our goals this year was to be competitive.
"We also wanted to make teams worry about playing us and make teams suffer at the Oval. Our record shows that we are doing those three things and they will continue to be our aims.
"Going top was a marker for our fans and volunteers, a big step to show that we are going in the right direction. It was good for the players also, but they knew it would only last until Monday, while I didn't look into it much at all. It's only January, after all."
Good players, good organisation and Paul Millar
Appointed Glens manager at the end of March last year, McDermott replaced former long-serving Oval defender Gary Smyth and his assistant Paul Leeman, who captained the side as a player.
Having previously worked as Carlos Queiroz's assistant with Iran, the 45-year-old is also part of the consortium, headed by British-Iranian businessman Ali Shams Mohammad Pour, which completed its takeover of the club four months after he became manager.
One of McDermott's first moves was to bring in Paul Millar, another former Glens player, as his number two and he is categoric in his assessment of Millar's importance to the overall set-up.
"There are three main factors behind us doing well - good players, good organisation and Paul Millar," he observed.
"You can't do anything in football without good players and we have a great group of players who we have got well organised. They know what their jobs are and that gives them belief.
"Paul Millar's ability in dealing with players, in player recruitment and in man-management has been a massive asset to me and to the project in general.
"He has been a player, manager, scout, coach and also runs his own business. He can speak to people from any walk of life and he is direct. He tells the players the truth and he tells me the truth, and that is important."
Only one defeat away from being the 'village idiot'
It is clear that McDermott, despite having little experience of the Irish League before arriving at the Oval, has immersed himself in his club and professional surroundings.
"I have enjoyed meeting the other managers, everyone has been more than welcoming and cordial. I realise that might change as the pressure stage of the season starts to build, but I will just focus on my team."
That focus seems to be driven on a daily basis by both a desire to provide the best training environment for his players, and an acute sense of how rapidly fortunes can change in football.
"You have to prove yourself to the fans every day in this job, because you're only ever one defeat or one goal away from being the village idiot," he commented.
"I'm always thinking about how I can prove myself to the players - in every training session on every day. You can't let the players or staff down, I have to lead by example.
"We know there was a lot of doubt, worries and fears when the takeover was first announced last year, so it is important to reassure the fans that we are trying to do things the right way."