Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville the team to challenge champions: Hamilton

By Graham Luney

Gary Hamilton is no lover of Cliftonville’s artificial pitch but he does appreciate their style of football.

Hamilton knows what it takes to win a league title so the former Glentoran favourite is watching closely to see if the Reds can finish the job.

The five-times capped Northern Ireland international is now barking the orders from his position in the Mourneview Park hotseat and the Lurgan Blues can torpedo Cliftonville’s IRN-BRU League Cup hopes when the sides clash in the semi-finals at Solitude.

But the question on everyone’s lips as Tommy Breslin’s men wrestle with champions Linfield today, is can the north Belfast men get across the finishing line first next May?

Being top of the league now counts for little, being top in May counts for everything.

So does Hamilton believe the pacesetters can see off the inevitable Linfield comeback?

“I’ve said it from day one that Cliftonville will be the team to challenge Linfield this season,” he said.

“I still believe that Linfield will win the league because they have got the biggest squad, they have got the most experience and a manager who has been down this road so many times.

“But in my opinion, outside of the Blues, Cliftonville will be the biggest challengers. Maybe Portadown might spring to life when Gary Twigg comes in for them but all I can see is the Reds challenging, despite the great form of Coleraine and Crusaders.

“I think Cliftonville have a greater strength in depth and I have huge respect for Tommy (Breslin) who I believe has improved the team since Eddie (Patterson) left. He’s strengthened the team and we will need to be at our best to beat them in the Cup.”

When a team is struggling at the wrong end of the table as Glenavon are, they need players with quality and experience and former Derry City, UCD and Glentoran ace Ciaran Martyn fits the bill.

The goalscoring midfielder is a stunning addition to the ranks and Hamilton, whose side host Donegal Celtic in a crucial basement battle tomorrow, knows exactly what he is getting.

“Ciaran’s a great player,” he said. “He was part of a great Derry City side that went on a super run in Europe. He’s tall, experienced and strong. When he’s fit he can run all day and his attitude is first class.

“When you are down at the bottom and don’t have the biggest budget in the world guys like him can make a real difference. We can already see his winning mentality and he will get stronger.”

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