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Kyle Neill preparing to step down from Irish League stage

By Graham Luney

Kyle Neill has confirmed he's quitting top flight football at the end of this season.

The 39-year-old hopes to steer Glenavon to a Europa League spot before stepping off the Danske Bank Premiership stage and allowing younger players to showcase their talent.

The full-back, who left Glentoran for the Lurgan Blues in 2010, may decide to play on at lower league level but his top flight battles are coming to an emotional end. His career has been disrupted by injury, including a torn cruciate ligament last season that required surgery, but there have also been many highs including title wins with Portadown and Glentoran and Irish Cup triumphs with the Ports and Glenavon.

Neill made 150 appearances for Glentoran, scoring 32 goals, and he's just two games shy of clocking up 200 for the Mourneview Park side.

And the experienced defender would love to leave Glenavon with a parting gift of Europeanfootball, through the end of season play-offs.

"I'm stepping down from the Irish League at the end of the season," said Neill. "I've really enjoyed it but it's time to step back and give the young fellas a chance. I feel okay when I'm playing but the recovery time is slower. I can't complain, I'm 39 and enjoyed a great career.

"I've played for great clubs, won titles and Irish Cups. Probably my favourite game is when I scored against Ballymena United in the 2014 Irish Cup Final, helping Glenavon win the trophy for the first time since 1997.

"We had went down to 10 men but I scored a free-kick and it put us on the path to victory. It's a recent memory too and one I cherish. I've enjoyed every minute and I'm feeling emotional now when I walk off pitches. I'm close to the 200 appearance mark for Glenavon but I hope they can make Europe and keep improving as they are a superb club with great people and facilities."

Neill and his team-mates will have a part to play in the thrilling climax to the Premiership season as they wrestle with Crusaders at Seaview while leaders Linfield are at Solitude. The Blues are two points in front and have the cushion of a healthier goal difference, leaving the Crues banking on a huge favour from their north Belfast neighbours.

"It's all about how Linfield do and they have been the strongest team for at least two months," added Neill. "I thought Crusaders had it sewn up two months ago and maybe they did as well.

"Linfield beat them at Windsor and that was a big psychological blow to the Crues but I was still surprised to hear their result against Ballymena. I was walking off at Solitude after playing Cliftonville thinking 'wow, they lost and they lost not by 1-0, but 3-0.'

"We have to prepare for the play-offs and Gary (Hamilton) will not want any injuries or suspensions. Whatever team he puts out will put up a fight but Linfield have a much better goal difference and I can't see them slipping up."

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