Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Glenavon back on title message with Gary Hamilton

Guy high: Guy Bates is worth his weight in goals to Glenavon

I'm about to make a very big statement – yes, Glenavon can win the Irish League. But before they start dancing on the streets of Lurgan, I must add that it won't happen this season.

It's fantastic to see both Glenavon and Portadown in the top four after 13 games but let's not get carried away and say that a wind of change has struck the Irish League.

Linfield, Crusaders and champions Cliftonville are the main title contenders. It could be a much more thrilling conclusion than a year earlier but neither of the Mid-Ulster sides are well enough equipped at present to last the pace.

Glenavon's ambitions were never that lofty anyway... yet.

Storm clouds had been hovering over Mourneview Park for too long but there's suddenly a silver lining visible.

The Lurgan Blues have only won the title on three occasions – 1951–52, 1956–57 and 1959–60. Why shouldn't boss Gary Hamilton, who has just been handed a two-year extension to his contract, start aiming for a fourth?

A number of new players will have to come into the Glenavon squad for that to happen but the former Northern Ireland international has already proved himself a shrewd operator in the marketplace.

Summer signings William Murphy and David Rainey were managerial masterstrokes. Both are players of proven ability but ability is never enough. I'm a great believer in any successful team having two key ingredients – ability and attitude.

And I've been impressed with the attitude of Hamilton's men. There's a great camaraderie and togetherness in the Glenavon squad. Every manager needs a happy dressing room where the players are united and willing to stand up for one another.

One of the main reasons why Cliftonville and their neighbours Crusaders have enjoyed considerable success in recent seasons is the team spirit and bond among the players. Something similar is taking shape in Lurgan.

There's been a heavy spotlight on the 'veterans' Murphy and Rainey but young lads Andy McGrory, Rhys Marshall and James Singleton have bright futures.

Marshall and Singleton could have frozen in front of the Sky Sports cameras at Shamrock Park but instead produced a display mature beyond their teenage years against a formidable forward line of Kevin Braniff, Gary Twigg and Darren Murray in a 4-2 win that sent out a message about Glenavon. As for Guy Bates, who scored a hat-trick against the Ports, he's on fire and could hit more than 30 goals this season – he's got 11 so far.

Making sure the blend of youth and experience works is the job of Hamilton, assistant boss Paul Millar and first team coach Nigel Law. Crucially, the players are buying into how they work.

And Hamilton, as he continues to learn the managerial ropes off the pitch, remains a class act on it.

He's a natural born winner and he will want his players to aspire to reach the standards he accomplished.

That includes winning league titles. Not this season, but in the coming years.

It was interesting to read the view of the club's chairman, Adrian Teer, that Hamilton could even manage at a higher level – perhaps pursuing his ambitions across the water, mirroring his career as a player.

Glenavon is a club that has craved stability and financial security.

Many managers have tried and failed but the feelgood factor is back this season.

The 4-2 Mid-Ulster derby win on Sky Sports confirmed their status as an emerging force in the Irish League and the Lurgan Blues are stepping out of their neighbour's shadow. Bridesmaids no longer.

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