Conor McMenamin has described his withdrawal from Northern Ireland’s squad following the emergence of a historical video as “difficult”.
The Glentoran forward was pulled from the squad hours before last month’s NI’s Nations League win over Kosovo.
He was then reinstated by the Irish FA disciplinary committee and was able to face Greece in the final game four days later, where he featured off the bench.
“Obviously it was difficult at the time,” said the Glentoran winger.
“The club have been brilliant with me, they have been supportive. The gaffer [Mick McDermott], all the board and the boys have all rallied around me and made sure I am alright.”
McMenamin said his return to the pitch with Northern Ireland and then Glentoran was a relief.
“When you are out there it is probably the safest place to be,” added the 27-year-old.
“You don’t think of anything else and you just want to go and play football, do well for the club and do well for the boys. Thankfully I’ve been able to do that.
“I always believe I can do well and help the team. I am playing really well and long may it continue.”
After a superb 2021-22 campaign with the Glens, McMenamin was handed a maiden call-up for June’s Nations League quadruple header, and retained his place in the squad for September’s international window.
However, the emergence of the video came two days after Kilmarnock striker Kyle Lafferty was withdrawn from Ian Baraclough’s squad following an alleged sectarian remark.
The Irish FA has since defended its handling of the situation after McMenamin travelled to Athens for the final Nations League match.
“The video in question was made a long time ago. I am sorry and I regret it. We all make mistakes,” said McMenamin after he had been reinstated to the squad.
‘Biggest game of our year’
McMenamin has played a starring role in Glentoran’s unbeaten start to the season, which continued with a 3-0 victory over rivals Linfield on Friday night.
McDermott’s side are one point off the top of the table but have a game in hand over early pacesetters Larne.
“It’s early days. We aren’t going to get carried away. To come here, it’s obviously the biggest game of our year,” added McMenamin.
“It’s the biggest crowd, it’s our big rivals, so to get a win like that we are obviously going to be buzzing going into the next couple of weeks.
“It will breed confidence and hopefully we can just kick on and stay level-headed.”
Glentoran’s unbeaten start to the season comes following a disappointing end to the previous campaign, where they went from title challengers to missing out on European football altogether following a dramatic extra-time play-off defeat by Larne.
“It’s night and day,” McMenamin said on the mood in the dressing room compared to the end of last season, which he described as “heartbreaking”.
“There wasn’t a word spoken after the Larne game. We were so disappointed, especially with what happened.
“You couldn’t look at the gaffer for two months until the season started.
“He was really down and he’s still not over it and stuff. We have knuckled down and we have really bonded well and hopefully we can continue on.”
Learning from past celebrations
McMenamin added that Glentoran will “keep their feet on the ground” after beating Linfield, referencing last season’s heavily-celebrated win over the Blues in February which came before the Glens slumped and David Healy’s side eventually won the title.
“I think when we beat Linfield at the Oval last season everybody was getting too ahead of themselves, and singing and dancing.
“We all make mistakes and it is about learning from them as a team and individually. We will go to Newry next week and hopefully we can get three points.”
Remarkably, the Glens have only conceded one goal in eight games, which came in the second game week against Crusaders, and McMenamin has praised an improved defence which leaked 44 goals in the last campaign.
“When I first signed for the club we looked like we could go two games without conceding a goal,” added McMenamin.
“Last year we were leaking goals from all sorts of angles.
“We were in early [for pre-season], in the same time as clubs in Europe. We have worked on stuff that was our downfall last year. We always knew we could score goals and we look really solid.
“The boys have been unreal. The gaffer keeps going onto us, if we can keep goals out, with the attack we have we will score goals and we will win more games than we will lose.”