Cup bid now Hamilton's priority after Glenavon seal spot on big stage
Glentoran 0 - Glenavon 1
Gary Hamilton heaved a sigh of relief through his beaming smile as Glenavon's automatic European qualification was secured with a 1-0 victory over Glentoran on Saturday.
The Mourneview Park side had been locked in a continental battle with Cliftonville and faced the prospect of dropping into the Europa League play-offs had they lost their May 7 Irish Cup final date with Linfield.
Ahead of next week's dress rehearsal against the Blues, however, a solitary Kevin Braniff strike was enough to secure third spot in the Premiership table, meaning the pressure is off in the build-up to their forthcoming date with destiny.
"The cup final is the priority now but we will be playing for pride on Saturday," said Hamilton. "The players know that and our fans will expect that.
"We owed it to ourselves to deliver this time and we did. It shows the focus in our squad.
"Making sure we have European qualification done and dusted before the final is a massive weight off our shoulders."
Things might have been different had Glentoran's leading scorer Curtis Allen been able to get the better of Jonathan Tuffey, while Jay Magee flashed a volley over and David Scullion nodded wide of goal.
The Lurgan Blues were not without chances of their own, however, and threatened through Ciaran Martyn and Eoin Bradley but looked to have passed up their best opportunity of victory when Braniff somehow missed the target following good work from Bradley and Andy Hall.
The former Portadown striker, however, atoned shortly afterwards when he struck with a confident finish following Joel Cooper's quick throw-in.