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Hamilton has inspired Gray to be a big hit with Lurgan Blues

By David Mason

Glenavon new boy James Gray believes he can benefit from the 'Gary Hamilton factor' at Mourneview Park.

The 24-year-old, snapped up by Hamilton earlier this month, has already made a massive impact since moving from Southport, having bagged three goals.

He still has ambitions to make it on the full-time circuit, but his priority is to repay the faith Hamilton has shown in him by helping to shoot the Lurgan Blues up the Danske Bank Premiership table.

"I'm really enjoying playing for Gary," said Gray, the son of former Northern Ireland international striker Philip.

"I think he's absolutely brilliant. He gives you a freedom to play.

"I didn't come over here thinking I'd play straight away.

"Gary told me if I wasn't pulling my weight or not performing, I'd lose my spot. In football, I think that's healthy and should be the case at any club.

"I'm really enjoying it. I waited for my start in the league and it was nice to score in the local derby against Portadown. I was delighted we won, particularly after going down to 10 men.

"We stuck at it and probably played better with 10 men. We dug in really well. I've hit three goals so far and long may it continue."

Even though Gray is still adjusting to the physicality of the Irish League, he is relishing the prospect of title holders Crusaders making the journey to Lurgan today.

He added: "Even when I was in England, I followed Irish League football, so I know they've been doing well. I've heard they're a very physical, fit side and like to get the ball forward early.

"They're a very good team, but I'm looking forward to the challenge. It'll probably be a physical battle, but I'm relishing that.

"We still have a lot to play for. We're still in the Irish Cup - it would be brilliant to reach another cup final. Of course, the priority is for the club to qualify for the Europa League, which is so important.

"Obviously, if I can continue scoring goals and help the team progress and climb the league table, that's great."

Gray, who has represented Northern Ireland from Under-16 right through to Under-21 level, admits he had no reservations about moving to part-time football.

"I had offers in England to stay there, but I don't think this league gets enough credit," added Gray.

"It's the top division in Northern Ireland and there's great exposure with the press and so on. I started last season really well and was top scorer in the National League with Wrexham.

"We were flying, but unfortunately I broke my hand and then got a freak spider bite. That set me back because I had two operations in the space of three months.

"That was a setback and then I made a bit of a wrong career move by signing for Southport. That didn't work out how I'd planned and we came to an agreement that I'd leave.

"Obviously, every player wants to play professionally. That is still in my plans, but I'm enjoying it over here. I have family in Northern Ireland. If an offer came up which was acceptable, either at Glenavon or wherever, I'd look at it.

"I'm enjoying it over here, so we'll see, but I just wanted to come over here and score goals and get my name bandied about again."

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter knows his title chasers face a formidable opponent today.

"I thought they might be the nearest challengers this year," said Baxter.

"They have maybe been a bit off colour but they have not lost many matches and are a top team with quality players."

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