‘TIMES’ OPINION: McGibbon’s encouraging start to life in Ports hot seat

Pat McGibbon (left) on his first matchday as interim Portadown manager alongside Vinny Arkins, the club's all-time leading goalscorer and recent addition to the Shamrock Park backroom team. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Pat McGibbon (left) on his first matchday as interim Portadown manager alongside Vinny Arkins, the club's all-time leading goalscorer and recent addition to the Shamrock Park backroom team. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

After a week of reflecting on the past (Ronnie McFall’s 29-year reign) and looking to the future (Pat McGibbon’s appointment until the end of the season), the Portadown football family had a chance to focus on the present on Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock.

The 90-plus minutes of play and 1-0 defeat to Coleraine offered grim evidence of the gulf between hope and reality.

A glance at the league cements cause for concern entering the closing stages of a Danske Bank Premiership campaign which remains rooted in the potential for a relegation fight.

However, a weekend attendance bolstered by optimism and anticipation emphasised the desire from within the fanbase for a fresh direction.

The sight of spectators applauding players off the field despite the final scoreline would suggest an acceptance of McGibbon’s immediate call for unity and the importance of moving forward together as one.

The long-term challenge presented to McFall’s permanent successor this summer will serve as the true test but the decision by the Board of Directors to entrust the final few months of the season to McGibbon could prove shrewd, irrespective of who is in the Shamrock Park dugout on opening day of 2016/17.

McGibbon’s return to the club for a third spell - this season as physio following two previous periods on the players’ roster - offered an opportunity to analyse attitude and application levels from within the sanctity of the changing room.

Now he is in a position to turn theory into practice in the hope of an end product that will secure stability.

His addition to the backroom team of Vinny Arkins - the club’s all-time leading goalscorer and a modern fans’ favourite - offered a double boost by significantly increasing the credit from the stands alongside an outside voice capable of rejuvenating the players’ pool.

However, moves by McGibbon to bridge the off-the-pitch divide will prove welcome but without value if he cannot meet his most tangible target of points on the scoreboard.

McGibbon’s public persona over the past week has been one of open engagement but his statements in relation to the players suggest a behind-the-scenes philosophy in which the manager will hold the final word.

Arkins and Trevor Williamson form impressive coaching support and increased responsibility for club captain Keith O’Hara is another positive step by McGibbon towards rebuilding a squad inevitably damaged by such a damning run of results.

But McGibbon has also made clear his demands for improvement across key areas, most notably match fitness levels, with a clarity that hints at the determination required to carve out a decade-long career in professional football.

In McGibbon and Arkins, Portadown now have two former captains who never required armbands to display leadership.

The interim manager now has a limited timeframe of midweek training sessions and weekend matchdays to transfer that philosophy across to the current squad.

McGibbon has accepted the challenge of steering the Ports to safety and, with it, the cold, hard truth that the measure of his short-term interim spell will remain results on the pitch.