Belfast Telegraph

Turning pro is my goal but I'm loving life at Glenavon, says Northern Ireland U21 hero Sykes

 

Flying high: Mark Sykes scored the winner against Slovakia
Flying high: Mark Sykes scored the winner against Slovakia

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland Under-21 hero Mark Sykes has spoken about his dream to play professional football after another eye-catching performance at international level.

The Glenavon midfielder scored a brilliant header against Slovakia at Windsor Park on Tuesday to give Ian Baraclough's youngsters a winning finish to their incredible European Championship qualifying campaign.

Northern Ireland Under-21s ended up second behind Spain but missed out on the play-offs as they weren't one of the top four runners-up.

What they did, however, was make the nation sit up and take notice of an outstanding campaign in which they enjoyed six victories in 10 games, including a stunning success in Spain.

Glenavon FC star and Northern Ireland U21 hero Mark Sykes reflects on his goal-scoring display against Slovakia and playing in front of a friendly crowd at Linfield's Windsor Park for a change... 💚⚪️

Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Sykes has been a key figure and, while he is loving life with high-flying Glenavon under Gary Hamilton, his heart is set on the professional arena.

"It's always been my dream to go and play professionally. Where I'm at the moment with Glenavon is a really good stepping stone. I know Gary won't hold me back if there is interest in me," said Sykes.

"There are boys in the Under-21 squad who have made the move to professional football after playing in the Irish League, so it is not impossible and hopefully I can get a move.

"If it doesn't come up it won't bother me because I can enjoy my football at Glenavon, especially with us doing so well.

"At Glenavon I train two nights per week. When I join up with the Under-21s I'm training every day and it is what full-time football would be like for me, which is my aim.

"I have loved being part of this campaign, and to score the winner in our final match at Windsor Park was fantastic. It was great for all of us to get the victory in the last qualifier."

It's back to bread and butter with Glenavon on Saturday. Hamilton's men travel to Glentoran for their first game since an emotional 4-1 win at Coleraine earlier this month. The players delivered that glorious result for their manager, who was mourning the death of his Grandad.

"Going to Coleraine and beating them 4-1 at the Showgrounds was a massive result for us, and touching for Gary. He's been going through a hard time and we did it for him," said Sykes.

"Before the game it was emotional in the dressing room and at one point I turned to Andy Mitchell and said 'we're going to win this today' and he said the same back.

"Gary was struggling emotionally before the game and we knew what we had to do. There wasn't much of a team talk. It was about working harder than the opposition and we did that."

The win against Coleraine took Glenavon top, however since then Linfield have overtaken them.

Sykes adds: "Obviously Glenavon are flying at the moment. There is a good mood at the club. With us winning games everyone is quite confident that we can beat anyone in the league.

"With 10 games in for us it is early on but as our goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey says it is better being at the top than the bottom.

"Our next game is against Glentoran and we have to go there and try and win the game. Glenavon won't go anywhere and try and play for a draw. We will attack teams and that is when we get the most joy.

"We'll aim to keep picking up victories and hopefully they will stand us in good stead come the end of the season."

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