Glenavon boss Hamilton guides boyhood club to Irish Cup final
Gary Hamilton kept his emotions in check all the way through Saturday's mammoth Irish Cup semi final clash.
Glenavon's player-boss didn't panic when Crusaders pulled ahead through Paul Heatley and nor did he lose heart when Tiarnan Mulvenna's penalty was saved by Sean O'Neill.
He didn't let his side get tricked into going gung-ho in the aftermath of Ciaran Martyn's second-half leveller and, though he shared his side's frustration when the Crues were awarded a spot kick of their own in extra-time, he didn't get carried away when James McGrath turned Chris Morrow's effort over the crossbar.
Even when Mark Patton blasted the Lurgan Blues in front with a powerful left-footed effort, all that Hamilton would grant himself by way of celebration was a salute to family members in the lower tier of Windsor Park's North Stand – ditto when Martyn wrapped things up with his second of the day shortly afterwards.
Come the final whistle, however, the Glenavon boss lost it.
The sight of his ill grandfather smiling, proud as punch, was too much for Hamilton to bear and, in an act more in keeping with convention on Wimbledon's centre court, he set off on a tearful climb through the steps and chairs to enjoy a celebratory hug with the man who inspired the Lurgan Blue tradition in his household.
"We managed to get him to the game in a wheelchair so this win means a lot to him," said Hamilton.
"He has always supported Glenavon as has my family. I've been taken to matches ever since I was a little boy.
"Crusaders had chances and we had chances especially the first half penalty which would have levelled the game at 1-1.
"The bottom line is we took our chances and they didn't. I always thought we were the better team and actually thought we would win it in 90 minutes."
Quite how Hamilton and grandfather George Dennison would react if the Mourneview side get the better of Ballymena United in next month's final is anybody's guess, but double-goal hero Martyn admitted the May 3 showdown could be his last game in Glenavon jersey.
"It's too soon to make a decision on what happens next," said the 34-year-old.
"I recognise I'm coming to the end of my career but we'll see about next season later.
"Every lad in a blue jersey did the business. We probably rode our luck a little but then you need a little luck to win cups. They had chances and, had they taken them, it might have been a different story but we took ours and that's what counts.
"We've come from bottom of the league to a cup final in two years and that's down to the fantastic job Gary Hamilton has done at a club which shows great potential.
"I was with Gary at Glentoran and, when he mentioned he might take the player-manager's job at Glenavon, I told him he was mad.
"What that makes me for following him I don't know but we'll enjoy the moment and look forward to what is sure to be a hard match in the final."
Crues boss Stephen Baxter – who came under fire from some of his club's own fans for replacing striker Gary McCutcheon with Andy Smith (pictured) early in the second-half – insisted his players still had every reason to hold their heads high despite their campaign failing to yield any kind of silver lining.
"I'm disappointed, yes, but for the players," he said.
"What they have done this season has been phenomenal – two finals and pushing for a place in Europe by hopefully finishing third.
"Yes, they created and missed chances including Chris Morrow's penalty but that's the way it goes at times.
"To me, they are all superstars and deserve a medal for the way they have performed this season and still have third place to play for."