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Paul Millar is craving more Cup glory, 30 years after sealing a place in Glenvaon history

By Stuart McKinley

Published 07/05/2016

Ups and downs: Paul Millar has experienced the highs and lows of the Irish Cup final after winning as a player with Glentoran and as assistant boss at Glenavon and losing as Glens boss. Winning with the Ports after Cliftonville
were thrown out was another low as he missed the big occasion
Ups and downs: Paul Millar has experienced the highs and lows of the Irish Cup final after winning as a player with Glentoran and as assistant boss at Glenavon and losing as Glens boss. Winning with the Ports after Cliftonville were thrown out was another low as he missed the big occasion
Memories: Paul Millar hails Glentoran’s Cup success in 1986
First blood: Jumping for joy after the Glens took the lead in the 2006 final before Linfield went on to win
Game for a laugh: Paul Millar and Gary Hamilton share a joke

When he's not eagerly pacing the touchline as Glenavon's assistant manager or in his day job as the chief executive of the Hanwood Centre, a stone's throw away from where he grew up in Tullycarnet, Paul Millar likes to switch off by reading thrillers.

Late American Vince Flynn and British writer Lee Childs are his authors of choice, but nobody could pen a tale with as many twists as Millar's real-life Irish Cup story.

Now 49-years-old, he will sample the big stage again this afternoon, a full 30 years after his first Irish Cup final experience.

On that occasion Millar was the hero, netting Glentoran's late winner against Coleraine -so late that Irish FA staff had started organising tickets for the replay, as in those days there was no extra-time, let alone penalties.

The then-teenager almost never got the chance to make his dreams come true.

"I can't believe it's 30 years ago. I remember more about the day itself rather than the game or the goal," said Millar.

"My dad remembers more about it than I do. My sister got married that day and I went to the wedding before going to meet up with the boys.

"I'd scored in every match on the way to the final, including replays, but I was only 19 and Billy Johnston went with experience and left me out.

"People thought I would be disappointed, but I wasn't. There was only one sub in those days and I was just glad to be involved.

"When I watch the goal now it's different from how I remember it in my head.

"I thought I was closer to the centre of the goal. If I'd realised I was further out I probably wouldn't have shot - and yes, it was a shot, not a cross. I wouldn't have been passing to anyone from there."

Millar isn't the only member of the Glenavon backroom staff who was involved that day 30 years ago. First-team coach Norman Kelly was on the sidelines as a ballboy, aged 15.

Two years later, Millar suffered a semi-final defeat with Portadown, against the Glens, but his biggest Irish Cup disappointment came during a second spell with the Ports, 11 years later, even though he actually ended up with a winners' medal.

It was discovered that Cliftonville had fielded the cup-tied Simon Gribben as a substitute in the semi-final and the rules dictated that they be kicked out of the competition, with the Ports handed the trophy.

"It was awful. We were all built up, we wanted to play the game and we didn't care who won, we just wanted the day out," said Millar, who did get a day out 10 years ago when manager of Glentoran, losing 2-1 to Linfield as the Blues completed a Grand Slam.

"It's the biggest day of the season and because of having it taken away in 1999 I enjoyed our win against Ballymena two years ago even more. It was as good a feeling as I have had in football.

"As a player you think that these things come around every year, but that's not the case."

That 2014 success for Glenavon saw Gary Hamilton win his first silverware in management and end a 16-year trophy famine in Lurgan.

His appointment as Glenavon boss in December 2011 was viewed by some as a gamble. His playing ability was never in doubt, but those who thought they knew him wrote him off before he even had the chance to prove them wrong.

There is, however, a lot more to the 35-year-old than meets the eye - even for Millar who was already a friend before he signed Hamilton for the Glens shortly after taking charge at The Oval in February 2006.

"Gary takes a lot of stick, but anyone who says that they know him is telling lies," said Millar.

"I would say that I am one of the people who know him best and I don't even know him.

"He knows football though. The way he analyses players and analyses games is unbelievable.

"He sees things in players that others don't. James Singleton and Rhys Marshall were released by Linfield and under Gary they have become two of the best young players in the league.

"I think it's because of what he can do as a player that the players respect him. Even last week against Linfield he played at centre-half and he was outstanding."

Hamilton supported Glenavon as a boy and he has revived the fortunes of the club in the last four years.

They were relegated from the Premier League in 2004. Three years later, they only survived via a play-off.

Now, however, they are preparing for a second Irish Cup final appearance in three years and next season will be the third in a row in which they have played in Europe.

Millar puts the success down to the spirit in the squad and the welcoming atmosphere around the club. The impact of the Hamilton-Millar partnership can't be underestimated either. They are two men who like to approach the game with a smile on their face, but they know when to get serious too.

"It's a club that people want to come to and even players who have left will tell you that it's a smashing club to be at," said Millar, who is hoping to get back onto the golf course on his first Saturday off next weekend.

"I came to the club four years ago and they'd been fighting relegation just before that. I sat down with Gary and we made phone calls to players who had been in Linfield Swifts and Glentoran Seconds, as well as some Irish League journeymen. None of them returned our calls and one of them signed for Dundela instead.

"When you look at what Gary inherited, to have won the Irish Cup, reached another final and qualify for Europe three years in a row is a great achievement and the European money this season will allow us to sustain that.

"He gives me my place, we discuss things, but ultimately he's the manager and he makes the final call.

"I've been a manager in the past, but I'm very happy doing what I am doing now and there isn't much that would interest me on that front or that would tempt me to leave."

Belfast Telegraph

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