Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton has questioned his side’s mentality and threatened to make a raft of changes this summer after their Irish Cup exit at the hands of Dungannon Swifts.
The Lurgan Blues fell at the first hurdle on Tuesday evening, when the visitors came from behind to win 2-1 at Mourneview Park.
It’s the club’s fourth defeat in their last five Irish Cup outings, their only victory in the competition coming against Rosemount Rec in 2019.
That was before the Swifts ousted them a round later with another victory at Mourneview Park, a feat that had also been accomplished by Loughgall the year before and was repeated by Coleraine in 2019.
Such a trait of losing the games with the most at stake is what most angered Hamilton after the final whistle, as the defeat comes fresh off the back of a 6-1 home humbling at the hands of Crusaders in a result that ultimately decided the final top six place, while the boss also pointed to two derby defeat to Portadown this season.
Add in this missed once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach an Irish Cup final that will be hosted at their own Mourneview Park and the boss had plenty of questions for his players.
“It has hurt me a lot and it’s not acceptable. We’ve come up short and we’ve bottled it, if truth be told,” he told the Glenavon website after seeing his side surrender an early lead.
“After the first 15 or 20 minutes, we scored early and is it a case of they think they’re better than they are? That’s what it looked like to me because after that we stopped and we didn’t have another period in the game at all.
“You look at our results this year and we’ve come up short in a lot of these games. The same group of players have drawn with Coleraine three times this year, beaten Crusaders twice, beaten Linfield and given them two (more) good games.
“They’ve proved that they’re good enough players but as I said to them, it’s the mental side of things. Do they think they’re better when they’re playing the bottom sides in the league or what is it?
“You become complacent. We did it (scored early) against Crusaders in another crunch game and we got beaten 6-1. Tonight was the same. We looked really good but we got complacent, the gaps between our lines were massive and they (Dungannon) came into the game, deservedly so.
“Complacency is a massive thing in football. The last 70 or 75 minutes, we ended as poor as I’ve seen us.”
The result means there are at least no grey areas remaining in Glenavon’s quest to secure European football for the first time since 2018.
They must now finish seventh in the table and clinch the final play-off place to stand any chance. Hamilton’s men are currently in that coveted spot, six points clear of Ballymena United, who they visit in a mammoth clash on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s concerning,” the boss continued. “They’ve only got one chance to get Europe now and that’s to finish seventh. At the minute, they’re in the driving seat. If they don’t get it, then there’s something severely wrong there mentally as a group.
“We’ve let ourselves down in all the crunch situations this year and we can’t keep doing it. They’ve got five games now and they have to, as a group of players, finish seventh in the league. The club is good to them, looks after them and it’s to give something back.
“The next five games are all pressure games that they’re expected to win. It will be a test of their character and if we fail from now until the end of the season, there will be a lot of changes this summer, I can guarantee you that.
“It’s up to them now. I’m sick, sore and tired of coming out here all the time and backing them up. It’s up to them for themselves and more importantly for the club and the supporters. The least they can do is give the club a crack at European football. It’s in their hands and it’s up to them to produce it.”
Ultimately and regardless of the league finish, however, the reality that such a unique opportunity has passed Hamilton, his side and the whole club by will take time to get over.
“That hurt me and it will do,” Hamilton said.
“I’ll not recover that for a few days or maybe weeks because it was an opportunity to pay something back to the football club. This club has been really good to the players. They’ve put a great stadium and playing surface in place that was deserving of getting this season’s Irish Cup (semi-finals and final). What a nice return it would have been to try and go the whole way and get there.
“Unfortunately they’ve let every down at the club and that’s not good enough. I’m the manager and I accept responsibility but at the same token, we have to look at the players when they cross the line as well at times.
“I’ve always been kind about them because I like them as people but too many times this year, we’ve let the club down when it has come to games that I would call pressure games, when we’re expected to win.”