Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: Why Glenavon fans will raise a glass to celebrate Seven-up for boss Gary Hamilton

Seventh heaven: Gary Hamilton is making waves as Glenavon manager
Seventh heaven: Gary Hamilton is making waves as Glenavon manager

By Billy Weir

The banner headline on the back page of yesterday's Tele screamed 'From Mourneview to Man U' and Glenavon fans must have faced the sort of horror only experienced when they look in the pantry and they are down to their last four bottles of Buckfast.

But crack open the Lurgan champagne, Gary Hamilton is going nowhere. Well, not just yet.

Much has been made of the conveyor belt of talent that has turned Glenavon from perennial strugglers in recent times to cup winners, top six regulars and now title challengers.

Yes, you have to have the players at your disposal to make things happen, but in a landmark that went largely unnoticed this week, Hamilton celebrated his seventh anniversary at the club.

Glenavon has always been in his blood, he has strong family links to the club and despite having been a key player for the 'old enemy' not far away, it was a red letter day when chairman Adrian Teer and his board made the astute decision to appoint Hamilton as a replacement for Marty Quinn.

It was an appointment that had a few eyebrows raised in a northerly direction. Let's face facts, he isn't one of the game's 'characters' for sitting quietly in the corner and playing backgammon of an evening.

But nor is he the rocket that he has often been made out to be.

Having covered a fair bit of Glenavon in recent seasons I have got to know him much better and when it comes to football he is as driven, dedicated, professional and honest a manager as I have come across.

Two Irish Cups already locked away, the next step is to be serious Gibson Cup contenders and they are certainly that in this season where any one of five teams could still have their ribbons dangling off the side of the famous old trophy come the Spring.

Friday night's demolition of Coleraine (who were utter pants) showed everything that Glenavon are about - swift, exciting, attacking football, guarded by a back-line that may be young in years but is brimful of talent with an insatiable desire to win.

He has also surrounded himself with good people. Assistant manager Paul Millar, one of the countless men to have been kicked out of the Oval far too soon, is a vital cog in the Glenavon machine.

Going right down the club through to the Academy there are some hugely exciting talents yet to be unleashed to join the likes of Mark Sykes, Dylan King, Caolan Marron, James Singleton, Rhys Marshall and Jordan Jenkins.

Sykes is likely to be on his way to Port Vale, joining Bobby Burns in a well-deserved crack at the full-time game, and filling those boots will be a major challenge for Gary and co come the new year.

But it's not just the emerging talent, it is sprinkling that with some wise old heads, such as Jonny Tuffey and Sammy Clingan, and making some astute and, at times, surprising, acquisitions.

Andrew Mitchell is again showing why he is one of the best strikers in the business and that it was a no-brainer bringing the Waringstown man back home, but the likes of Andy Hall, Andy Doyle and Stephen Donnelly have been throws of the dice that have come up trumps, if I can mix my metaphors for a moment.

And it was a risk for the board, but back in December 2011, Teer explained why they plumped for the 'colourful' centre forward as their new boss.

For his part Hamilton has always been pragmatic and realistic.

"First and foremost we must avoid relegation and then get ourselves into the top six of this league," he said on day one as the new Glenavon boss.

"We must also be in a position to reach cup finals and semi-finals," he added.

Job done.

One telling moment in Friday night's 4-0 win over the Bannsiders was the return to league action for Dylan King, who hadn't played since being given a torrid time by Jordan Owens in last month's thumping at Seaview.

The young defender wasn't the first and he certainly won't be the last to get a roasting by the Crues and when he didn't appear for the next game against Ards I raised the matter with his boss.

"Dylan has played a lot of games recently and he's a young kid, he's 20 years of age," he explained.

"Sometimes with young lads when they're making mistakes here and there, it's better to take them out for a week or two and give them time to think.

"He has done ever so well for us; he has been brilliant for us. But he's young, he's going to make mistakes and unfortunately for centre-halves when they make mistakes, they usually end up in the net.

"You rarely see 20-year-old centre-halves playing, they're either a right-back, left-back or centre midfield, left or right wing or forward.

"Even someone like John Stones, when he was introduced to the team it was as a right-back. It's a difficult position to play and be introduced as a young lad, and we have two of them in Dylan and Caolan Marron.

"Caolan has had the benefit of playing two or three seasons, so that's why he's a little bit ahead of Dylan at this moment in time, but Dylan has all the makings of a top, top centre-half - he's strong in the air, physical, with a great diagonal pass and he's someone I have great hopes for.

"He wasn't dropped, we just took him out of the team to let him have a little bit of time out. He has played a lot of games, he was across at Oldham and Motherwell, he's been playing Under-20 football and never played in men's football.

"We did the same with Caolan a couple of years ago when we played Coleraine in the semi-final of the cup after playing 17 games on the bounce and he made a mistake and we took him out for a few weeks and he came back stronger after it and sometimes with young lads that helps."

It certainly does, King hardly put a foot wrong against Coleraine and there is an even bigger test to come this weekend when Glenavon travel to Linfield for what is (warning, festive football cliche alert) a real Christmas cracker.

It's second against third and the winner would be on a real high. A win for Hamilton and his stock will rise further. It was no surprise that his name was in the frame for the vacant Derry City job a few weeks ago and that must be the fear for the board and fans alike that it could well be when rather than if he takes a punt at full-time management.

Oran Kearney has shown that this is possible, and given the fruitful raids across the border Hamilton has made for players down the years he will be on the radar of clubs in the Republic too.

But for now, let's raise that glass to Gary, 007 years in the job, let's hope he keeps that licence to thrill.

Belfast Telegraph


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