THE McFALL YEARS: Strain’s tribute to early steps towards first title

Brian Strain
Brian Strain

Brian Strain spent 14 years on the books at Shamrock Park but can still recall his first conversation with Ronnie McFall about following him from Glentoran to the Ports.

Strain became the first captain in club history to lift the Gibson Cup after Portadown’s landmark 1990 Irish League title success.

The following campaign featured a league-and-cup trophy ‘double’ as the career highlights in a crucial relationship between player and manager.

“I never actually played under Ronnie when he was Glentoran boss but joined Portadown in 1987 as part of his rebuilding job.

“You could tell from the start that he meant business, in terms of the signings and how Ronnie was so driven and professional.

“Everything was so organised, from the work put in by the backroom guys to those small details.

“It was all about trying to gain an edge in any possible way.

“Ronnie didn’t suffer fools in any way but, of course, it was the same within the dressing room and we were all winners, with that character our greatest strength on and off the pitch.

“We handled our own situations and Ronnie’s approach was clear, based on not conceding then getting it forward to the players who could cause damage.

“We put in a lot of hard work on the training pitch and made sure we kept our own fitness levels up because no-one wanted to lose a place in the team.

“During the tough times he would stick to his beliefs and we all rode the storm together, with everyone pushing each other forward.

“We hit the ground running that first season and you could see by the end how much it meant for Ronnie to win the league for his home town.

“It was a great time to be at the club, with a real bond formed between the players and fans, so much so that it felt like our home town too to be honest.”

Strain is quick to highlight the role played by McFall on his career.

“It is inevitable in football that every manager’s time must end but the hope was it would end for Ronnie on a high note,” said Strain. “It gets to the stage that the time is right but I am sure Ronnie would have thought long and hard about his decision rather than just a reaction to the Lurgan Celtic result.

“He turned around a club that had to apply for re-election to the league into champions.

“Ronnie helped to give me a fabulous career, not only in the Irish League but Europe.

“I will always have great respect for Ronnie.”