Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: It's time to give Glenavon's kids and Gary Hamilton a chance

Midfield general: Glenavon’s Rhys Marshall has impressed since moving up the pitch
Midfield general: Glenavon’s Rhys Marshall has impressed since moving up the pitch
Gary Hamilton

By Billy Weir

I received a message this week from a work colleague of my significant other, thanking me for Ballymena United losing to Glenavon at the weekend.

In fairness, I played no part in the defeat and wasn't even at the game, but the message wasn't just some childish gloating - it had a heartfelt message.

"Thanks for the win, another defeat and Gary Hamilton could have been on his way," it read and initially I laughed it off, but it got me thinking.

Yes, Glenavon haven't exactly broken a lot of delft in the first few weeks of the season and sitting ninth in the Danske Bank Premiership table doesn't make for great reading.

I've only seen them once so far this and they were brutal against Coleraine, beaten 4-0 and there were a few whispers of discontent amongst the Mourneview Park faithful but, then again, that is hardly breaking news.

Seven points from seven games is very poor return especially compared to this time 12 months ago when they were flying high with 16 points and there were murmurings of a title challenge.

Those murmurs became excited chatter over the next few weeks as they rattled off five league wins on the bounce and suddenly a Gibson Cup push was the talk of the town.

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In the end they finished third, which earned a Europa League play-off semi-final clash with Glentoran.

A 4-2 defeat at home followed and Glenavon had to batten down the hatches.

With no mega-money benefactor heading towards Lurgan, the club has had to cut its cloth accordingly and there was little transfer activity to report in the close season.

Hamilton was, in many ways, forced to turn to the promising crop of youngsters that he and his coaching team at Mourneview have been cultivating over the years, but in many ways they have been victims of their own success.

Shayne Lavery, Bobby Burns and Mark Sykes have all come through and gone off across the water to the professional game, with Glenavon having to pick up the pieces.

Saturday's win was just their second of the league campaign, the other coming against Warrenpoint Town, but there have been signs that things are on the turn.

Wins against Formartine United in the Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup and the dismissal of Rathfriland Rangers in the Mid-Ulster Cup aren't exactly going to keep David Healy from sleeping a wink at night, but they have been crucial in bringing a bit of confidence back to Glenavon.

Most neutrals, and a fair few Crusaders fans, admitted that the very least their efforts merited at Seaview a fortnight ago was a draw but they didn't get it.

When they went a goal down to Ballymena on Saturday, the murmurers were probably clearing their throats again, but they swept the Sky Blues aside when they levelled through Rhys Marshall before an own goal and a late Jordan Jenkins effort wrapped things up.

And it was the impact of those two aforementioned players that was significant - with one or both of them possibly having their futures away from the club.

Marshall's contract runs out at the end of the season and keeping him is crucial for the club and Hamilton.

The biggest problem Marshall has is he is too good. He has played right-back, left-back, central defence, midfield, an emergency striker and I think went into nets once, so he has never got the chance to emerge in one spot.

Hamilton, whether by choice or necessity, has pushed him into midfield now and it is paying dividends - his natural athleticism, eye for a pass and, as shown on Saturday, a shot like a mule showing just what he can do.

"I've believed for a long time now that Rhys Marshall would be the best central midfielder in the Irish League," he said.

"He has everything. He is good in the air, he's quick, he's good on the ball and he scores goals."

The best in the Irish League may be a little way off just yet, but he has so much to offer in the middle of the park, however the player himself is clearly ambitious and said something that made my ears prick up at the weekend.

The 24-year-old has been linked with moves to Larne, Linfield and Crusaders, all of whom can offer him full-time football if he wants it.

"I'm just looking to see how we do, if any more come in and what's going on. I will see how, even to January, it pans out and take it from there," he said on Saturday.

Hamilton can't afford to lose him but maybe can't afford to keep him and risk letting him go for nothing, while the player himself would seem, judging by those sentiments, keen to see Glenavon investing to take the team forward.

Jenkins is a different dilemma. As has been Hamilton's way, he had toyed with allowing the striker to go out on loan to get more experience but, with few options, has had to keep him waiting for his chance.

"We have young players with such potential and if we can keep them all together the future is going to be good at Glenavon," added the Lurgan Blues boss.

It is something that Hamilton set in place when he came to the club and something that the club embraced, so to hear chatter that all is not well behind the scenes, rumours or not, it would seem daft in the extreme to even consider dispensing with his services.

I hope it doesn't come to that, he deserves time to get things right. Next up, a trip to Windsor Park to play champions, Linfield. It's never easy in this league

Blues’ gradual rise to top could lead to squeaky bum time

You can’t half tell that David Healy spent a bit of time under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

 Having braved the storm and a feisty Carrick Rangers side in Monday night’s offering on Sky Sports, the Blues are suddenly in a position that if they win their three games in hand, they will be sitting pretty at the top of the table.

“We are looking above, but everybody that has played all their games will be looking to see where Linfield are, so it’s important when we get the opportunity to go out and perform to close the gap, that we do it,” said Healy afterwards.

 That’s the sort of mind games Fergie would be proud of, but it was the perfect weekend for the Blues as Coleraine — just as they did at Windsor Park — picked up a 4-2 win, this time seeing off Crusaders.

 Stephen Baxter was less than happy with his side’s sloppy defending and any talk that the three-point lead they have at this stage was kicked unceremoniously into touch.

“We don’t talk about cushions, winning matches gives you points to kick on. You have to win the next game in front of you, it’s a long campaign. We have played eight games, there are 30 to go, there are 90 points to play for, we have Glentoran and Linfield next.”

As for Coleraine? Well that dismissal of the Crues means they are now the only team with an undefeated record and they continue to defy the odds under Oran Kearney, who seems as excited as the rest of us at the title race that is about to unfold.

“I don’t see any team running away with the league,” he said.

“I just see it being the strangest season ever and there could be six teams in the mix by January time.

“There is so much quality in the league that it’s hard to say if anyone will make the charge.”

 If the Blues keep going the way they are, there will be a few squeaky bums elsewhere.

Strugglers set for uphill battle in the Mournes 

The masochistic amongst you may want to pop along to Milltown this Saturday for the cliche-ridden meeting of Warrenpoint Town and Institute.

The sides occupying the two basement slots in the table have mustered a mighty single point between them with 15 games played.

That may be the sort of success rate Boris Johnson can only dream of but, in footballing terms, the countdown to exiting the top division is well and truly ticking unless they can change things and fast.

Despite two more defeats for them at the weekend, the respective managers, Stephen McDonnell and Sean Connor, are beginning to see some improvements.

“I have a smile on my face, even though we were cruelly beaten. I’m chuffed and pleased because it was a courageous performance,” said McDonnell after his side’s late defeat against Glentoran.

“It certainly gives me belief that we are going in the right direction. It’s the first time this season I’ve seen the character emerge from the side.”

For Connor, his first match in charge of Stute ended in a 1-0 loss at Cliftonville and he could see some light at the end of the tunnel.

 “The difference between this week and last week was night and day and we’ve got something to build on and try to take forward,” said Connor.

So, it’s a real six-pointer, something has to give, with one man set to be over the moon and another as sick as a parrot — and no doubt both will be looking for a result. Glad I steered clear of any cliches there...

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