Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: Gary Hamilton's Friday night masterclass proves Glenavon boss' rare appearances should be savoured

Kneesy does it: Gary Hamilton takes a well-deserved
breather in last Friday’s game with Linfield
Kneesy does it: Gary Hamilton takes a well-deserved breather in last Friday’s game with Linfield

By Billy Weir

Fridays on television have been a pretty mixed bag down the years. Obviously it's hard to look past Crackerjack, there were those dodgy films with the wee red triangle on Channel Four and even more embarrassingly if you were caught watching by your mum, the Kelly Show.

Now you have the likes of Graham Norton and Gogglebox but it was another G that was required viewing last Friday.

Quite simply Gary Hamilton put on a masterclass in the art of attacking play as Glenavon played host to champions Linfield in BBC NI's latest Friday Night Football offering.

Mind you, if you'd offered up a screenplay where an ageing lead inspires a team who had been spanked 7-0 by the same opponents a few weeks ago, to turn things around, play magnificently, keep a clean sheet and take all three points, then you would have been laughed out of the commissioning editor's office.

He was simply a joy to watch. All the pre-match talk had been about Shayne Lavery, a striker at the top of his game, with more scouts watching his every move than the woggle distributor at a jamboree and fresh from a cameo performance for Northern Ireland against Germany.

This was to be more than a cameo for Hamilton, a man who, shamefully, picked up only five international caps, but there have been few better exponents of the striking art locally and at the sprightly age of 39 he showed that there is life in the old dog yet.

He no longer runs around like a pup, in fairness his game was never about that, but what he lacks in the leg department is more than made up for upstairs.

Back to Gary later, but for the moment, a rare moment of praise for the BBC, pairing regular expert analyst David Jeffrey with Stephen Craigan, not a man usually associated with the local game.

Having served Northern Ireland with distinction down the years, Craigan plied his trade in Scottish football mainly with Motherwell and is now a regular face on BT Sport's excellent coverage of all things Caledonian.

Craigan and Jeffrey would have been quite the defensive duo and pairing them off the pitch was a masterstroke. The two sparked off each other and the Northern Ireland defensive legend (Stephen, not David) showed that while he may have been across the Irish Sea for some time, he still knows a thing or two about the local game.

They were rubbing off each other beautifully, making a lot of sense and giving some great insight, so, naturally, presenter Mark Sidebottom had to put a stop to that forthwith, stopping them both in their tracks with 'I'm feeling a bit redundant, just a reminder that I am the presenter.' As if we could ever forget.

Thankfully he allowed Jeffrey to continue, setting the scene for Hamilton the manager's thoughts in picking himself.

"Tonight he's saying, 'I'm going to go out and lead by example. Never forget Gary Hamilton is a marvellously talented, superb footballer who has a great footballing brain," he said.

And so it proved, some of his lay-off artistry was so exquisite it deserved to be hanging on the walls of a gallery rather than on display at Mourneview Park.

He brought his team-mates into play, relieved the pressure at the back that Linfield inevitably put on, especially in the early stages and then after Robert Garrett's deflected strike had given them the lead.

He also took time to try and establish an entente cordiale with Linfield's French import, Bastien Hery, with a beautiful cameo in winding up at a corner as Hery encountered Hairy and all his wily ways and was left very bemused.

At the break, Jeffrey summed things up.

"He has been absolutely amazing and yet everything he has done has been so very, very simple," he said.

He was withdrawn from the action, against his will, with 20 minutes to go and with Caolan Marron and Andy Doyle superb at the back, the Blues couldn't find an equaliser and so the unlikely story handed to the editor came true in the end.

Afterwards the man himself had recovered enough puff to talk to pitchside reporter Nicola McCarthy.

"I feel like 71 never mind (playing 71 minutes), if you've got players around you with a bit of pace, as long as you don't have to move two or three yards, you have a chance," he said.

"You don't lose the brains, you lose your legs but thankfully there weren't too many balls I had to run onto."

The following day I met up with Jeffrey after Ballymena United's draw with Institute, and he expanded upon his thoughts on Gary Hamilton the footballer.

"I thought he was phenomenal but he has always been a very intelligent footballer," he said.

"It's just his natural ability and talent, he's a thinker and he knows himself his legs aren't what they used to be but he's very clever in the positions he takes up, how he holds the ball up, his hold up play was superb, absolutely magnificent and he laid on all the younger players around him.

"It was no surprise that that was Andrew Mitchell's best game of the season, because Gary led the line.

"He was a nightmare. The very first piece I did for the Sunday Life was about regrets in football and one of my regrets was that I never got to work with him as a footballer.

"He was a fantastic talent. I had him once, in an Irish League Select when we played England and beat them and he was phenomenal."

Institute manger Sean Connor, who has had a long managerial life south of the border, is another in the Hamilton Fan Club, explaining that he had tracked him for years but to no avail.

"I tried to sign Gary when I was manager at Sligo Rovers and at Bohemians," he explained.

"When he was at Portadown I tried to get him a couple of times and at that stage he and Vinny Atkins were incredible and he showed a bit of class on Friday night."

He did, and so to Tuesday night and Stute's visit to Mourneview and Connor was probably delighted to see that the No. 80 (do the maths) was not on the starting line-up.

The heart was probably willing to go into another match but the legs and his managerial head told him otherwise, so he brought in Stephen Murray to start.

And he scored twice as Glenavon recorded two wins in five days and suddenly the doom and gloom that had been hanging heavy over Lurgan has started to lift.

Many had been reaching for the panic button, some of the natives were getting restless and now with some of his established players getting back on board, there may be fewer times that we will be treated to a striking masterclass. Savour it while you can, it's certainly more rewarding than trying to win a mug off Gerry Kelly.

Real Gawne kid gives Carrickfergus the blues

We’ve dealt with one striker who is delaying the end of a glittering career, so it is good then that we can look at another just starting out on his journey.

There is a lovely post on the Coleraine FC Twitter feed of the Bannsiders’ match-winner on Saturday, Alex Gawne, celebrating his first league goal for the club alongside a picture of him playing in the Academy side several moons ago.

Now, having been born in 2001, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that he will get the reference to Scottish pop combo Deacon Blue in the headline above and I have more dignity than to get involved in an argument with someone who was born 13 years after these were hits.

Then again, when he was born S Club 7 were No.1 with Don’t Stop Movin’ so, morally, I think I am on a winner. Mind you, it is a cracking tune.

Anyhow, I digress, back to footy and Coleraine moved back to the top of the charts (see what I did there?) thanks to Gawne’s goal, and a managerial masterstroke by Oran Kearney with an inspired substitution that worked wonders.

“You’re a hero when they do. Alex has a long way to go in the game, he’s a young lad but he’s got boundless enthusiasm and energy,” said the boss of his young talent.

As for ice-cold Alex (another reference for the kids, there) he couldn’t have been happier had Deacon Blue announced a new tour with support by S Club 7.

“That’s my first league goal for the club and it means a lot to me. It’s just a pity it was down at the other end and not the Railway end,” Gawne said on Saturday.

“If it had been in front of the Coleraine fans it would have been even better as the supporters would have been going crazy.”

No, that was left to Carrick boss Niall Currie who was fuming at the baffling decision to award a penalty for Jamie Glackin being cruelly struck down in his prime in the penalty area.

I have looked and looked at it and for the life of me I can’t see what referee Tim Marshall did and I am not alone.

“If we’re going to give penalties for those kind of things in the box then there should be 10 penalties a game. To me the contact was very minimal, if there was any,” raged Currie.

“Look at the reaction of the players, no Coleraine player appealed for it, we were all shocked.”

He’s probably wondering when his telephone will ring with the ref full of love and regret, but he probably doesn’t like Deacon Blue either.

Joe hits 30 mark

I suppose it would be rude of me to talk about strikers and not mention the best exponent of the art, Joe Gormley.

You know you have scored a special goal when there’s an audible gasp and begrudging applause from your opponent’s fans and that was the case on Saturday with his thunderous finish against Larne.

It also made another little bit of history for Cliftonville’s all-time leading scorer in that he completed his full set of scoring against all the Premiership teams he has faced.

It was his 205th goal for the Reds, his 20th of the season and, as usual, is leading the way to be the league’s top goalscorer.

And a goal (or two) for Joe usually means good things for Cliftonville, as stats show that when he scores the Reds invariably avoid defeat, with just 15 defeats in the 144 separate games in which he has found the target, according to Cliftonville’s excellent website.

Mr Goal celebrated his 30th birthday on Tuesday, so still a whipper-snapper in striking terms. We look forward to the next nine years of goals.

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