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'It was a dream': Striker Andrew Mitchell explains decision to leave boyhood club Glenavon for title-chasing Glentoran

 

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Andrew Mitchell has left Glenavon to sign for Glentoran alongside defensive team-mate Caolan Marron

Andrew Mitchell has left Glenavon to sign for Glentoran alongside defensive team-mate Caolan Marron

Glentoran FC

Andrew Mitchell has left Glenavon to sign for Glentoran alongside defensive team-mate Caolan Marron

It was never really supposed to be like this.

When Andrew Mitchell joined Glenavon in the summer of 2017, it was the dream made reality.

Having grown up as a ballboy behind the goalmouth at Mourneview Park, finally the lifelong Lurgan Blue had Glenavon's number nine on his back.

Fast forward two and a half years and the star striker has turned down a new contract to join Glentoran.

"It was a dream for me to play for Glenavon," he reiterated just hours after finalising his departure. "Being the club's number nine is something I dreamt about as a kid."

It begs the question; just what has gone wrong?

The undertones of the move have much to say about Glentoran's rise, Glenavon's fall and the new order of the Irish League.

Back in 2017, Mitchell was happy to reject the advances of reigning champions Linfield and runners-up Crusaders for his local team. With an Irish Cup success just over a year previous and a squad boasting upcoming stars like Mark Sykes, Bobby Burns and Rhys Marshall, there was hope of more silverware on the Mourneview horizon.

But now, as the top clubs introduce full-time football, Mitchell could be forgiven for reassessing his chances of success.

"I'm coming 26 and I felt like I needed to take on this challenge," he said.

"When something like Glentoran comes along, it's such a massive club, and I felt it was the time to go for it. This sort of opportunity might never come up again.

"It's been a frustrating 10 years for Glentoran. It would be fantastic to bring some success back but you can't get too far ahead of yourself. We've got to perform every single week before thinking about winning anything. If we can do that, then we'll be there or thereabouts."

In the 16/17 season, Mitchell was the league's top scorer, bagging 25 for Dungannon Swifts. Any Glentoran fan remembering the clamour for his signature might be confident their club have pulled off a master-stroke under the radar.

Since then, Mitchell has netted 35 Premiership goals for Glenavon, 18 in his first season, 13 last term but only four so far this season - just seven in all across 2019.

Just what has gone wrong?

"The first season was great. I was flying," he recalls.

 

"Even at the start of last season I was playing well too but then I picked up a thigh injury and that curtailed me a bit. It was so frustrating at the time, missing six or seven weeks just after the new year.

"Then I missed some of pre-season getting married, which I know doesn't help but hopefully you only get married once.

"This season has just been frustrating for everyone around Glenavon. It hasn't gone as expected."

While he's too polite, too respectful, to bring it up himself, there have been questions raised about the suitability of the team's direct style to the man signed to be the key goal-scoring cog.

"I came from Dungannon, who always looked to get the ball down and work it out from defence, through midfield," he ponders. "I think that suited me, having the ball on the ground.

"At times at Glenavon, it was about getting the ball forward as quickly as possible to put teams on the back foot. Maybe that didn't quite suit me all the time but I tried to adapt to it and, look, that's football. Everybody has their styles and quite often that worked for us.

"To me, football is about having the ball on the ground at your feet. Of course, heading and all of that is involved but it's great to get the ball down and that's what they do at Glentoran.

"They played Glenavon down at Mourneview earlier in the season and you could see they were trying to play football. I watched them on BBC against Larne as well and it was brilliant."

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Mitchell thought long and hard before waving goodbye to Glenavon

Mitchell thought long and hard before waving goodbye to Glenavon

@INPHO/Brian Little

Mitchell thought long and hard before waving goodbye to Glenavon
 

So perhaps it's a move that has kick-started both a dream of success and a footballing philosophy.

It's certainly been a considered, weighed up decision that has not been made lightly. Mitchell is a Primary Six teacher at Waringstown PS, his home school, and in the summer married partner Carly Johnston.

This is an unnecessary upheaval to a life dedicated to the area in which Mitchell grew up. He'll now travel to Belfast to begin training at 4.30pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, and 6pm on Thursdays.

So if he's going to do it, he promises his new employers that it won't be half-hearted.

"It's now up to me to work my way into the team and give my best in every training session. I will be working extremely hard," he vowed.

"As Mick (McDermott - Glentoran manager) said at training on Thursday, there are 14 league games left and it's up to us to perform and give everything for the shirt. That's what I'll do any time I step onto the pitch for Glentoran."

Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton cited the 'stick' from supporters as a 'big part' in Mitchell's decision but the striker is adamant his relationship with any supporter base won't hamper his on-field performance.

"It's part and parcel of the game," he said. "Honestly, I don't hear it, other than once this year. It's not a big issue. Everybody is entitled to their opinion and I certainly don't think it affects me. When I'm on the pitch, I'm there to perform week in, week out and that's what I'm thinking about; helping the team.

"I really enjoyed my time at the club. We finished third two years in a row and got the club's biggest ever points tally last season.

"Glenavon is a great club, the club I support, but it's very difficult to turn down this opportunity because I know Glentoran's history and their aspirations. It's a very exciting time."

It's the beginning of a new, perhaps surprise, chapter.

As the sun sets on one dream, it rises on another.

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