When Glentoran booked their place in the next round of this season’s Europa league qualifiers, few would have been happier than Motherwell keeper Trevor Carson.
He knows this Thursday’s European experience will now be an emotional one but it will also be one full of personal as well as professional meaning.
“Sadly I lost my granny in the summer there. She had the coronavirus. She was a massive Glentoran fan.
“When I rang my grandad [about the draw] it was the first thing he said, just how things work out. It will be massive. I watched the Glens growing up and I played a lot of games for Northern Ireland over there.
“I was very close to my gran, I had to go home for a few weeks early in the lockdown but with everything going on, I never got the chance to say goodbye. She was in the hospital for 11 days, with no visitors allowed. That was obviously a horrible time.
“Her name was Esther, she was 75, and in her younger days she went to games, she had a real soft spot for the Glens and always looked out for the results.
“My grandad Kenneth Savage played for them so that’s maybe where she got it from. It’s a small world, the way things work out. For my family, it’s certainly a nice time to play them and an emotional tie for us.”
The pandemic has not just claimed the life of one of the key figures in his life, it has prevented him being with his family and denied him their support.
“It’s hard for me because I haven’t had the chance to go home since, with everything going on and especially with the scrutiny we are under as players.
“If things were normal my grandad would be over at least once or twice a month to see me playing. But the situation we are in, there’s no chance.
“He was a keeper, got a B call-up for Northern Ireland. I’ve spoken about him in many an interview, I am where I am today because of him, he is my inspiration. But, he’s obviously struggling, they were together nearly 60 years, it was their wedding anniversary last week there. I think they got married at 18. It’s tough for him.”
It was his grandad who drove him all over the country for games and “paid for every pair of boots and pair of gloves I had growing up”. He was also the one who stood behind the goal, from under-seven right up to under-16, offering “encouragement and the odd kick up the arse when I needed it”. Which is why his grandparents will not be far from his thoughts when Glentoran come calling this week. His family were the support he leant on as he kicked his heels on the sidelines for almost two years. An ankle injury and a blood clot accounted for some of that period, the form of Mark Gillespie the rest. But with his rival’s summer departure to Newcastle United, manager Stephen Robinson, pictured, has given Carson possession of the starting berth and he is not minded to relinquish it.
“Proving to myself the first four or five games, I can and I’ve taken a lot of confidence from it.
“There were times I wondered if I’d get back but the hardest thing for me wasn’t the six months or so out with the injury but the year or so after that. Because I was fit, raring to go and Mark just didn’t give me a sniff, really. That was hard to deal with. There were times when I did doubt myself but I’ve got a very good family around me, they kept me positive more times than not and I feel that was important.”
If there is a sentimentality to Thursday night’s game, it is also business to be done as Motherwell look to put their indifferent start to the Premiership behind them and show their worth on the European stage as Carson stakes a major claim for the Northern Ireland shirt.
“It’s another opportunity for me. I am 32 now, not getting any younger but this year is massive for me in terms of international football.
“I’ve just been called up for the squad and the other keepers aren’t really playing so to go and perform well in Europe would give the manager a few questions in terms of hopefully selecting me to play.
“That’s on my mind definitely. It’s okay doing it in the Scottish league but taking it to the European stage would be another positive for me.”