Five things we learned from Glenavon's 6-2 victory over Ballinamallard United
Which players caught the eye, why Adam Foley's hat-trick was extra-special and what positives the Mallards can take home
Glancing down Tuesday evening's fixtures, I wasn't immediately sure where to spend my night. Boy did I make the right decision.
We were treated to a festival goals - and very good ones at that - as Glenavon crashed past Ballinamallard United 6-2 at Mourneview Park. Throw in some very impressive goalkeeping and a couple of bad misses and the entire 90 minutes were a pleasure to behold.
Well, not for the Ballinamallard fans. But there were, as unlikely as it sounds, a couple of positives for the County Fermanagh side. I did my best to scrape those together and here are the main points to remember as we get to grips with the teams at the start of another season.
1. The Glenavon Academy has done it again
Under the reign of Gary Hamilton, Glenavon have brought the likes of Rhys Marshall, James Singleton, Mark Sykes and Caolan Marron through to Irish League football. All bar the suspended Sykes were in the starting line-up on Tuesday evening - as was the latest young star to rise through the ranks and hit the first team. It seemed that Bobby Burns, a left-back, would have his work cut-out to secure a regular starting spot thanks to Singleton's prominence in his natural position but, playing in centre-midfield alongside Rhys Marshall, he looked at home. More than capable with both feet and an engine that showed absolutely no signs of tiring throughout the 90 minutes, he was the powerful force that drove on a Glenavon machine that looked unstoppable during the second half.
2. Andrew Mitchell has it all (even a good partner)
Andrew Mitchell was running out for his much-anticipated return to Mourneview Park as a Glenavon player. It's a ground he knows as well as anyone. As a kid, he would sit behind the net at the Crescent End, catching errant shots and feeding them back to the goalkeeper - enjoying his ball-boy duties for the club he loves. Now he's the other side of the white line taking plenty of time to make the ball-boys and team mascots feel part of the club. He understands their passion.
Added to that, he has an undoubted quality that thrilled all the Glenavon support at his home ground. Equally adept with the ball at his feet as he is with it on his head, Mitchell showed the range of his talents. His two goals summed up the poaching nature essential for any top striker - but his skill to take on the Mallards' back line and even the quality of his passes into the box were a joy to behold. Who could forget his backheel for Rhys Marshall's equaliser?
And he's not on his own. The relatively unknown quantity that is Marc Griffin proved he's not content to rest in Mitchell's shadow - rather he proved a perfect Robin to his strike partner's Batman. His pass out to winger Andy Hall in the build-up to his partner's first was a particular highlight. Quick on the ball and with an eye for goal, it will be interesting to see how his pairing with Mitchell develops.
3. Absolutely EVERYONE is delighted for Adam Foley
How could you not be? The affable Dubliner was the victim of horrendous misfortune when he signed for the Lurgan club in 2013, suffering a cruciate ligament injury during a pre-season friendly against Loughgall. There had been high hopes he would out-perform any of Gary Hamilton's other recruits that summer, which included one Guy Bates. Now Adam Foley's back to make up for lost time and bagging a clinical hat-trick, it was impossible not to catch his contagious smile at full-time.
4. Mallards defence must improve (to help outstanding goalkeeper)
As good as Curran was at one end, Ballinamallard were every bit as shakey at the other. And that's even taking into account a top drawer first half performance from goalkeeper Richard Brush. Questionable marking left Foley all alone for all three of his finishes. In fact, Glenavon's five second half strikes all arrived care of dangerous balls from the flanks. The defence must do better or it could be the beginning of a long season for the Mallards.
5. Ryan Curran can make a name for himself this season
At 23, Ballinamallard attacker Ryan Curran is ready to kick on with his career. Beginning his senior football with his home club Derry City, Curran was afforded relatively few league starts until he transferred to nearby Finn Harps for the 2016 season. Seven League of Ireland goals that year and it seemed he was about to hit full throttle. Ankle injuries were to curtail his efforts last season but with three goals in his opening two games, he's joint top-scorer in the Danske Bank Premiership alongside Foley, Curtis Allen and Paul Heatley. With his direct running (defenders didn't seem to know what to do except back off), nifty footwork (ask James Singleton, tricked into conceding a penalty) and undoubted eye for goal (reference two fine finishes), get used to seeing this name alongside the top scorers.
Belfast Telegraph Digital