IRISH LEAGUE: Team play at heart of Glenavon’s five-star show

Glenavon's Joel Cooper' put in a starring performance against Portadown.'Photo by TONY HENDRON/
Glenavon's Joel Cooper' put in a starring performance against Portadown.'Photo by TONY HENDRON/

Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton called on his players to “grab the spotlight” before Saturday’s Irish Cup quarter-final at Shamrock Park.

The final whistle left the Lurgan Blues celebrating a dream derby win over Portadown by 5-0 following a memorable performance.

Individual ability provided the spark behind a cohesive team performance which left Glenavon’s main rivals reeling.

Joel Cooper dazzled on the day with a two-goal contribution to cap a virtuoso display.

Mark Sykes stepped off the sidelines to mark a second-half cameo with an assist and goal - a contribution matched by defender James Singleton.

The experienced Ciaran Martyn and Guy Bates also produced key moments as the former found the net with the first goal and the latter’s role as a frontline focal point led to one assist and a strong all-round afternoon.

Hamilton was keen to stress the importance of the group effort, especially under the emotional circumstances of the occasion following a family tragedy for assistant manager Paul Millar.

But he also had special praise for end products which he hopes can inspire a strong end-of-season push on multiple fronts.

“Joel Cooper was excellent last season but Saturday goes down, for me, as his best game in a Glenavon shirt,” said Hamilton. “Every decision basically was the right one and that is what makes the players reach the top level, that ability to make the right choices.

“He is an exceptional talent and we have talked to him this season about how things have maybe been harder this year compared to last but on Saturday it all came together.

“I think we dominated that key midfield area and often that is crucial at Irish League level.

“Rhys Marshall was special and Ciaran Martyn proved his big-game experience once again by hitting the bar then scoring the first goal just before half-time after Portadown had started so well.

“I don’t think I have made a better signing as Glenavon manager to be honest and Ciaran is under-rated by many but, along with someone like David Elebert, brings that mental strength.

“It comes down to that will-to-win and people like Ciaran and David are so important to helping the team and especially the younger players.

“It was a toss of a coin in terms of going with James Gray or Guy Bates.

“Guy came in with that ability to link up the team more and hold it up, which we expected to be important in the pressure of a derby.

“On Saturday, it worked out but it was a tight call.

“Mark Sykes showed what it means to be a squad player by reacting in the ideal way to starting on the bench.

“He scored one goal and also finished with an assist by showing his character to come on with the right attitude.

“He is such a talent but still young and across the game you see prospects rested or treated in a way to best help them develop and progress.

“But it really was about everyone pulling together on Saturday, not any individuals.”