European frustration for Gary Hamilton as Glenavon set record points haul with win over Cliftonville
Manager Gary Hamilton hailed the performance of defender Andrew Doyle as Glenavon ended their Danske Bank Premiership campaign with a blistering performance against Cliftonville at Mourneview Park.
Although the Lurgan Blues eased themselves into the record books by recording the club’s highest-ever points total – 70 – it still wasn’t enough to seal them a place in European football next season.
Instead, they must now negotiate the lottery that comes with the NIFL play-offs.
But on this form – and, taking into account that Hamilton blooded a lot of his teen sensations – Glenavon will be favourites to see off all-comers to book a passage to Europe and get their hands on the financial benefits that come with it.
“I have to pay tribute to ‘Doyler’,” said Hamilton. “He has been out since August, so to come back in like that was brilliant.
“He hasn’t even played a reserve-team game because we couldn’t get one arranged. He has come straight in to put in a performance of hunger, guts and desire – it’s what I want from every player.
“I’ve told him (Doyle) while I’m at this football club, he’ll always be here because he’s the type of person you want about you, he rubs off on other people.
“I don’t usually single out individuals but it deserves to be highlighted.”
Hamilton added he had a certain degree of frustration at finishing in third place, but still not qualifying for Europe.
“After 38 games we are sitting third in the table and, if it was like most other leagues, we would already be in Europe,” said Hamilton. “There is a bit of irony there - we create a little piece of history with our highest-ever points total, but it’s still not enough.
“It’s a fantastic achievement, especially when you take into consideration that we’ve lost the likes of Mark Sykes, Bobby Burns and Joel Cooper, who were all transferred, while the likes of Doyle and Sammy Clingan have hardly kicked a ball because of injury.
“All massive players at this club, so a lot of credit must go to our players. We finished third last year and I really thought if we got to fourth or fifth this year, we’d be doing well.
“To finish in third place again is a brilliant achievement.
“Now we must prepare for the play-offs. It is what it is, we are now going to have a very difficult game, regardless what team we play.”
Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin admitted his hand was forced in term of team selection because a number of his boys were walking a suspension tightrope – one more booking would have ruled them out of the Euro play-offs.
“I give a lot of the kids a chance,” he said. “It’s only fair that we not only get ready for next week, but for next season.
“We had three boys one booking away from missing the play-offs and a couple carrying injuries so I wasn’t prepared to take any chances.
“It only takes a mistimed tackle or something silly to earn someone a booking to put them out of the play-off. With that in mind, we decided to change the squad.
“The conditions predicted how the game was going to go - Glenavon won the toss and played with the wind in their favour, which let them get a few goals in front.
“But we created our own downfall.
“Our decision-making and our defensive play wasn’t good enough.”
GLENAVON: J.Taylor, Doyle (Barr, 59), Hall, Harmon, Norton, Murray, Garrett (Hunter, 68), Jenkins (O.Taylor, 74), Wearen, Sharkey.
Subs (not used): Daniels, Jameson, Bassett, Hamilton.
CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, Breen, Harney (Whiteway, 81), C.Curran, R.Curran, Bagnall, Catney, McConnell (Rocks, 62), Maguire, McMenamin, A.Donnelly.
Subs (not used): Neeson, McGovern, R.Donnelly, Lavery, Gorman.
REFEREE: Tony Clarke.