The club is delighted to formally announce that two of our top young prospects – James McCarthy and Paul O’Neill – have signed their first professional contracts for the club. We believe Paul and James are the first players born in the 21st Century to sign as professionals for Glentoran.
Brooklands Primary School – Lagan College
Currently attends the Football Academy at Belfast Met – full time education
James, a native of Ballybeen here in East Belfast, joined Glentoran Academy from local boys club Dungoyne as an 11-year old in August 2012 and in his first season played his part as the Under 13 team finished fourth place in the National League and reached the NIBFA Cup Semi Final in his first season. James very quickly cemented his place in the squad and shared the left back berth with Ethan Warnock (who went on to become Glentoran’s youngest ever outfield player when he made his debut at 15 in Fermanagh last season before moving to Everton. James was an integral part of the u13’s Foyle Cup challenge that season as the team lost on a penalty shootout to Sheffield United in the Semi Final with James converting one of the spot kicks in the shoot-out.
James progressed to become a mainstay in one of the Academy’s most successful age groups to date as he scooped three back to back to back Northern Ireland Cup winner’s medals as well as collecting a Foyle Cup Winners medal and an All-Ireland Champions Cup medal. James has always versatile and could play in a number of but he really flourished when he moved into Central Defence on a permanent basis last season and his dominant performances earned him the attention of County Down selectors who named him as the Captain of their Premier team for the 2017 SuperCupNI. James was promoted into the u20 set up this season and did so well he was rewarded with the Captain’s arm band a few weeks later.
At still only 17 James shows tremendous leadership qualities through his aggression and will to win and this is matched by his ability to play football from the back.
U20s manager David Lowry said of James: “I am delighted for James as he is extremely dedicated to football. He was always the kid who, when you were giving a team talk, was off behind your back kicking a ball around, he just has a real love and enthusiasm for the game and with this being his sixth season at the Club and with his Ballybeen background he is a young East Belfast lad who would run through brick walls for Glentoran.
My Assistant Manager with the 2000 team, Chris Massey, is a teacher at Brooklands Primary. I remember going to watch his team playing in cup finals and this little wiry, no nonsense kid in the centre of defence always stood out. So I was very pleased when we were able to bring him to the club as an 11-year old. There was always plenty of competition for James, but while a few ran James close he always came out fighting and earned his spot in the squad and it is that fighting spirit and his determined character that will hopefully see him push on and have a successful career.
No one at the club will be expecting too much of James in the next couple of years other than to continue to develop and keep working hard to hopefully be ready to challenge the established guys like Garrett and Birney in the years to come and with my role now with the 20s it will be a privilege to try and help James achieve that”.
James is a left sided Centre Back. These are like hens teeth to find and while not essential, it is always better for the balance of a back four if you can have a naturally gifted left sided central defender and James fits that bill. He has displayed a real desire to improve and push himself over the last 12-18 months and we wanted to ensure that he had the extra support, comfort and encouragement that a pro contract brings to enable him to push on and try and fulfil his potential”.
James said after signing his contract: “I joined Glentoran when I was 11 years old and have been here ever since as I have always enjoyed playing for the club and felt a huge amount of pride representing Glentoran. I have had a lot of opportunities with the club so far and am hopeful I can have a long and successful career with Glentoran which is a massive club. To be given a pro deal is an incredible achievement for me but I know this is just the start and I have ambitions now to break into the first team squad and establish myself there. I believe my main strengths to be my ability to play out from the back and being composed under pressure and hopefully breaking into a higher level of football can help me develop further”.
Sacred Heart Primary School – St Malachy’s Secondary School
Currently attends the Football Academy at Belfast Met – full time education
One cold and Windy Friday night at the Dub playing fields on the Malone Road Glentoran under 14’s beat Cliftonville under 14s 10-5. Despite 10 goals for the young Glens the most memorable aspect of the match was that a certain young striker scored all five goals for the Reds! He was well known to the Glens coaching staff as they had tried to sign him the previous Summer but this game really hammered home the potential in the young player and thankfully in the January transfer window of 2014, that young striker, Paul O’Neill, signed for Glentoran. He stepped straight into our National League under 14 side who went on to win the NIBFA Cup that season. The summer of 2014 saw Glentoran U14 win the Foyle Cup and then win an All-Ireland Champions Cup with Paul a key figure in the side. Paul’s direct running, skill and eye for goal added to an already talented group of players and he gave the team an extra dimension going forward with his aggressive playing style and ability to commit defenders.
Paul’s career with Glentoran has been on an upward trajectory since as he also earned International honours being a part of the Victory Shield for Northern Ireland and he has also played in the SuperCupNI (Milk Cup) for County Antrim and scored for them in the Globe Final last season.
Paul banged in two smashing goals in the under 16 NIBFA Cup Final and this brought him to the attention of Roy Coyle recommended him for promotion to first team training the following pre-season. Paul became a regular in the u20’s finishing last season as their top goalscorer and is on track to do the same this season as he leads the charts with ten goals despite an injury plagued season in which he as only made 11 appearances.
Paul made his first team debut as a substitute v Ards in the final game of last season and made an instant impact as he earned the Glens a penalty in the game. As reward for his timely breakthrough into the team Paul was selected to travel to Detroit and got an unexpected boost when following an unfortunate warm-up injury to Curtis Allen and ended up starting the game in America. He also featured in pre-season against Swansea City’s U23 team at the Oval and has made one substitute appearance this season away to Crusaders in December.
David Lowry said of Paul’s contract: “Paul fully deserves this opportunity. He is a super young player who I believe can have a big future at the club. I know from working with Paul that he has a burning desire to do well in his career and importantly to do well for Glentoran. He has tunnel vision about making an impact with the club and achieving success and I am excited to see that sort of enthusiasm coming through our ranks. Paul will take time to grow into first team football and while I am confident he can make an impact if called upon we will continue to work hard with him on his game at the 20s and provide all the support we can to help him become a success, perhaps not overnight but over the coming seasons. By giving Paul ensures that we can offer him the security of knowing that he will now have two and a half years to grow into first team football. With the departure of Jonny Smith on loan Paul is effectively our third choice striker behind Curtis and Robbie McDaid and hopefully there will be opportunities for him to gain some more first team experience this season. We will work closely with Paul to help him harness his potential and hopefully he can go on to have a big future with the club.
Paul said on Friday evening: “I joined Glentoran when I was 13 and have enjoyed every minute of it right up to now. When Gary came in he had me up training with the first team and give me a chance in the last game of the season last year and I must have done well because he rang me to ask if I was available to travel to the USA to play in the anniversary game against Detroit city
I’m obviously delighted to be given a pro contract but I know now I’ve to perform in training and matches to try make the break through into the first team and try cement a place in the team every week. The main strengths of my game are that I’m always trying to get in behind teams defences and get plenty of shots on goal and if the team aren’t in possession I always work hard to try win the ball back
My ambitions are to regularly be in the squad for match days and hopefully push on and make a good and long career playing for Glentoran and ultimately help Glentoran challenge for cups and league titles.”
Pathway to the first team
David Lowry: “It is a major statement of intent from our club that these two lads have been signed professional at such a young age as it clearly demonstrates to our many promising Academy players and their families that long term career opportunities exist here at Glentoran. Ultimately, as a lifelong supporter, I want Glentoran to be as successful as possible and I believe Paul and James can contribute to a successful Glentoran in the future. We now have 5 or 6 lads in the U20s who will be looking at what these two have achieved and will have the motivation now to push on and earn a contract of their own. There certainly is the talent there for that to become a reality in the next 18 months.
It has been a frustration that over the years we have seen several players make a breakthrough into the first team set up but not go on and establish themselves in the team. So within the under 20 Development Squad we have looked at key factors in how we could try to improve this so we now offer up to four nights a week training. We have released a lot of slightly older players in order to give the top, top younger players more game time at 20s to find their feet and as they become established and confident at that level we are introducing gym sessions and looking at things like sports psychology. But another crucial factor is the support and encouragement of the senior club and the rewarding of two players with contracts is another step in the right direction for us, shows the players a pathway to the first team and gets them in and around that first team environment earlier to hopefully help them become accustomed to the demands at that level sooner.
Part of the development plan may well involve young lads going out on loan in the future and a pro contract enables this to happen as amateurs cannot go out on official loan deals”.