Belfast Telegraph

Gary Hamilton calls on Glenavon aces to gain hero status

By Graham Luney

Gary Hamilton is hoping Glenavon can discover a new Tony Grant tomorrow.

The popular Dubliner became a Lurgan Blues legend when he netted the winner against Cliftonville in the 1997 Irish Cup Final.

It was the Mourneview Park men's first triumph in the showpiece occasion since 1992 but they haven't been dancing on the streets of Lurgan since that glory day 17 years ago.

Glentoran beat Glenavon in the 1996 and 1998 finals but boyhood Lurgan Blues fan Hamilton has guided his troops into this season's final against Ballymena United at Windsor Park tomorrow (2.30pm).

The Sky Blues haven't lifted the glittering prize in 25 years so the stage is set for someone to secure the kind of hero worship Grant gained in '97.

"1997 was the last time we won the trophy and I was there. It was a terrible match but Tony Grant popped up with the winner," said Hamilton.

"He's still a legend at Glenavon since that day – Tony is a great lad and he's been a big part of the club as has Spike (Glenn Ferguson) and Stevie McBride.

"Tony has lived off the back of that for so long as we haven't won the trophy since! Spike and Stevie were doing it regularly for the team but might not have been remembered as much as Tony for his cup final contribution.

"I met Paul Hardy in a bar and he said 'I'm the one who scored the winner in the Cup final for Ballymena United 25 years ago!'

"He was with Windy (Paul Millar) when I met him.

"People tend to remember your last match and your last cup final."

There hasn't been as big a rush of tickets for an event since Garth Brooks announced he was coming to Ireland.

Hamilton says interest in the final underlines the potential for both clubs to deliver a stronger punch in the domestic game.

"The two teams haven't been in this final for so long but there is a difference in the sense that they have experience from the County Antrim Shield final last season," added the former Northern Ireland international.

"They beat Linfield in that one so they do have experience of playing against a big team in a big final.

"But this is a big occasion for the two teams who will be well supported on the day.

"Judging by the way the tickets have been selling, that tells you what it means to the supporters.

"We are two provincial teams who enjoy big support but it's important to bring success too and give something back to the supporters.

"If we could be successful and win silverware both teams have the potential to attract more fans than the ones at the top."

Glenavon have vowed to involve every member of their squad on the special occasion, including Mark Farren, who has been bravely battling a brain tumour.

Hamilton added: "Mark will be there as will all the players including Adam Foley, who did his cruciate at the start of the season.

"He hasn't played for a game for us and it's funny how football works. Our two best hopes for the season were Mark Farren and Adam Foley.

"Mark played three or four games but Adam didn't kick a ball. That's the way it goes sometimes but obviously Mark's issues have been more serious.

"Hopefully both will come back. Mark has had a tough time but he will be involved in the cup final, as will all the players.

"When you are a club like ours you need to build a good team atmosphere. We don't have the money to buy big players so you have to create a family feeling and winning mentality in the dressing room.

Further Reading

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Ballymena United will give it everything: Cushley  

"The boys get on with each other like I'm sure they do at Ballymena. The good Glenavon teams of the past, including those Spike was involved in, had that camaraderie. All successful teams have that and we will be together on cup final day."

Hamilton, who picked up his only Irish Cup gong in the colours of Portadown in 2005, added: "There is never an easy game of football, especially in a cup final.

"If the players are not up for it there is something wrong. They should have that approach in every game, whether it's a pre-season friendly or a big cup game.

"I don't care what anybody says, from the management side I can see some players lift their performance levels when they are on television but this will be a tough test with both sides posing real threats.

"We both have similar squads and matchwinners. Unless there is a refereeing decision which shapes things – and I have seen this time and again this season – it will be the team that deals with the occasion the best."

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