Belfast Telegraph

It's time to be more than a super-sub, says Mark Patton as he prepares to leave Glenavon

By Gareth Hanna

When you're the man that nets your club's most important goal this side of the millennium, you find an almost-unparalleled affection amongst the support.

So it was for Mark Patton when his 76th minute strike fired Glenavon to a 2-1 win over Ballymena United in 2014 and with it their first Irish Cup success since 1997.

And even now as he prepares to leave the Lurgan Blues, having handed in a transfer request earlier this week, his status has not diminished - one look at social media as his decision was announced confirmed that.

Nor will it ever in the eyes of the 4,000 or so Glenavon supporters who remembered (or discovered for the first time) what major success was like, biting their nails for the final 14 minutes and then erupting from Windsor Park's North Stand at the final whistle on May 3, 2014.

He had also put Glenavon ahead during extra-time of their 3-1 semi-final success over Crusaders and would go on to score a last-gasp winner over old rivals and his old club Portadown that Boxing Day; the blue side of Craigavon's first festive derby win since 1996.

After all that, it's little wonder that it's a player-fan relationship that Patton had to think long and hard about bringing to an end.

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Patton drives home the winner from 20 yards out. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye

"I haven't been playing much this year," the left-winger began to explain. He's right too - he has started just one Premiership game and featured in one other so far this term. "Josh Daniels and Adam Foley have come in during the summer and played very well. I played the first game of the season then Foley came in for the second game, scored a hat-trick and hasn't looked back.

"I've been playing well and scoring for the Reserves but at the same time, the guys have been playing so well that how could Gary (Hamilton - manager) change the squad? I can't really complain at all.

"I haven't got any grudges against anybody or anything like that. I wish all the lads and Gary all the best. I have fought for my place over the last year or 18 months but it has just come to that stage that I need to look after myself and I just want to play more football and start matches.

"I didn't want to go out on loan or anything, it was better to go and free up a little bit of money for Gary to get in players he wants and to let me move on as well. If there was ever a chance to come back, I wouldn't say no but now is the right time for me to move on."

Even after his imminent departure had been announced, supporters were queuing up to hail Patton a Glenavon legend - impressive for a player who has featured in less than 100 league games for the club.

"Over the last four and a half years, the fans and I have always got on really well. I want to thank them for embracing me, even though I came over from the Dark Side of Craigavon," he laughed. "Hopefully when I come back and play against Glenavon, they will still give me a good reception."

The chances of his next appearance at Mourneview Park being anything other than the return of a Prodigal Son, regardless the colour of his shirt, are slim to none. The club have only ever won seven Irish Cups. And that means Patton's name will forever be prominent in the club's history-books, care of that goal at Windsor's Kop end.

"It was special," he reminisced. "People still come up to me and thank me for it or say well done or whaetever. It wasn't just me playing that day though - there were a lot of big performances from big players like Shane McCabe, James McGrath, Andy McGrory, James Singleton and all the others too.

"I was just coming back from a bad back injury and really wanting to prove myself. Glenavon as a whole were riding that wave and we went for it. We performed in the big games, especially in the cup. I was coming on with 30 or 40 minutes to go and changing games or when I was starting, I was scoring goals too. I took on a real super-sub role and found a knack of scoring important goals. I just got myself into the right places.

"Winning the cup that season was the catalyst to putting Glenavon back to where they belong. It was massive to get some silverware and get back into Europe with the money that comes with that.

"It was great to be a part of that season, and the one after that when we went on that big run to get into Europe at the end of the season. Then I played in another victorious Irish Cup final as a left-back (against Linfield in 2016). It was all brilliant and gave us a lot of good memories."

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Patton now has a decision to make about where to go next.

And now the big question - what badge will be on his chest the next time he features at Mourneview Park? The Lisburn man says he has already got options to mull over, just two days after his decision was made public.

"There have been a few clubs speaking to me," he said. "I am probably thinking asbout staying in the Premier League but at the same time I wouldn't rule any Championship club out. I just want to keep my options open for now and speak to everybody to see what they have to say."

Wherever he goes next, another club will secure the services of a man capable of firing in 20-yard thunder-bolts to win Irish Cups. There aren't many players around with that on the CV.

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