Gary Hamilton is hoping to turn himself into a Glentoran legend tomorrow as the east Belfast men take on Cork City in the Setanta Sports Cup final at Turner’s Cross.
Alan McDonald’s side make the trip to the deep south, again as underdogs, hoping to come back up north on Sunday morning as All-Ireland champions.
To do that, they are going to need their star men at the top of their game and ace goal-getter Hamilton fits that bill.
And the Northern Ireland international, who has yet to find the net in the competition this season, is hoping to write his name into Glentoran folklore by conquering the Rebel Army on their home turf.
“These are the sorts of games that as a footballer you dream about playing in,” said Hamilton, who this week signed a new three-year contract at the Oval.
“You always want to be involved in the big occasions and over here it doesn’t come much bigger than an All-Ireland final.
“Everyone dreams of playing and scoring in finals, be it Irish Cup, FA Cup, title deciders and in that way I’m no different.
“Having said that, I have gone through the entire tournament without scoring so as long as one of our boys does the business then I wouldn’t be too upset.
“But, obviously I would love to be the one to score the winner.
“It is something that people would never forget and I think you would have legendary status at the club if you were to do that.
“Players like to be remembered fondly by the fans and when I finish my career I would love for Glentoran fans to look back and remember me as someone who scored such an important goal in the club’s history.”
The fact that the Glens are even in the final at all has sent shockwaves throughout the island.
They seemed to be down and out in the competition until a 4-1 victory over bitter rivals Linfield at Windsor Park sparked a new found optimism towards a tournament that they had infamously failed to get to grips with in previous campaigns. After that came a fine 1-0 win over St Pat’s at the Oval to make it through to the last four for the first time before disposing of Drogheda United with a superb display of grit and determination.
The achievement is so stunning that Hamilton admits it stands head and shoulders above anything he has ever done in his footballing lifetime — including running out for Northern Ireland.
“This is the biggest achievement of my career so far,” he admitted.
“Back when the draw was made people didn’t give us a hope of doing anything and I honestly believed that the only team from our league capable of going far would have been Linfield because of their full-time players.
“We hadn’t played very well in the tournament in previous years and it was going to be very hard again to try and even get out of the groups.
“All the eircom League teams are full-time and that gives them an edge so it is always going to be difficult for teams in our league to make an impact.
“But this time we have managed it. We have worked hard and beaten two top sides — three if you include the Blues — and now we have gone all the way. So from a club point of view it is a massive achievement and on a personal level I have to say that is the biggest achievement of my career.”
While just getting there, with the opportunity of being crowned kings of Ireland, is an amazing feat in itself, Hamilton doesn’t want to make the long trip back to east Belfast with merely a pat on the back and a slightly patronising ‘well done’ for making it so far.
He believes that the Glens are more than capable of causing what would be another shock by seeing off yet another of the eircom League’s big guns.
But the 28-year-old also admits that the Oval boys are going to need a large slice of luck — like when Drogheda missed a penalty in the semi-final — if they are to come up trumps.
“It is a massive occasion for everyone associated with the club — the players, the fans, the backroom staff, the Board — it’s huge and we know we have done really well to get here, but hopefully that’s not the end of it,” he added.
“What we have achieved can’t be taken away from us and we deserve to be there but we don’t want to come back thinking of what might have been.
“It’s going to be hard though, we know that but we have shown already in the competition that we fear no one.
“We are going to go out there and give a good account of ourselves and fight for everything. As long as we give our all, keep going for the entire 90 minutes and give 100 per cent then we can do no more.
“If, in the end, we get beaten by a better team then we will just have to hold our hands up and admit that. Cork are a good side and there’s no point in me lying about it, we are going to need a bit of luck like in the last couple of games. We just have to try and keep it tight at the back early on and then put away any chances we get at the other end.
“We are strong defensively and we always believe that if we keep a clean sheet then we have plenty of players who are capable of scoring. We have defenders who can score, midfielders who can score and three forwards (Hamilton, Michael Halliday and Andy Waterworth) who can score too.
“But in all cup finals where there is an underdog, which we will be seen as because Cork are a full-time team, you are always going to need a bit of luck.”
Hamilton is something of an expert on southern teams and he feels that City will give them their biggest test so far on their own patch.
“I watch a lot of their football on TV and Cork are a very hard team to beat,” he said.
“They are more like an Irish League team because they are a lot more physical.
“They don’t have a Keith Fahey (St Pat’s) or a Niall McGinn (Derry City) who can turn a game, but they are a strong unit — a big team.
“They get a lot of goals from corners and set-pieces so we are going to have to keep the free-kicks down to a minimum.”