Derby fixture frustration but Gary Hamilton has high hopes for Glenavon progress
Gary Hamilton has experienced Mid-Ulster derby day as a fan, player and manager but heads into tonight’s Danske Bank Premiership curtain-raiser frustrated at facing old rivals Portadown in the first fixture for a second successive season.
The Glenavon boss - and former Portadown player - suffered derby blues on the opening night of last season’s campaign but memories of that 4-2 Lurgan loss have little influence on his disappointment at having to kick off the campaign with such a high-profile fixture.
Hamilton has been an outspoken advocate of the Mid-Ulster derby benefits to both clubs and Irish League football overall.
In fact, Hamilton highlighted the potential Glenavon gains last year when he sanctioned the switch of Stephen Murray from Mourneview Park to promotion-chasing Portadown as a move which could “help us all”.
The Ports’ return to top-flight football last season for the first time since 2017 opened with away success over Glenavon and now Shamrock Park will host another clash between the clubs on the opening night.
“I’ve always said both clubs need Portadown and Glenavon together at senior level...some fans might want one in the league below but, from a financial viewpoint, the increased revenue can be important towards helping improve a squad,” said Hamilton. “But that will now be two seasons in a row we’ve started with a derby and that’s not something you really see.
“The first game of any season can be so random and then you add in the derby factor...
“I just think a game like that is better later in the season.
“But, that’s how it has turned out so we will just get on with it.
“We know derby games tend to come down less to ability and more hunger and desire in the moment, with league form or position irrelevant.”
The Lurgan Blues’ key summer transfer business was essentially wrapped up across the early stages - allowing Andy Waterworth, Mark Stafford and Mark Haughey to settle in after leaving Linfield and Danny Wallace time to adjust from Warrenpoint Town.
Hamilton feels the extended pre-season programme together has already resulted in benefits within the Glenavon camp.
“You can see it already...the impact around the whole squad when you add leaders, players who have been captains in the past and with that mentality that it’s unacceptable to let standards drop,” said Hamilton. “We have had that with signings in the past and when you bring in winners it just lifts everything.
“I enjoy working with players who show that winning mentality, plus feel it’s a good mix across the squad and am certainly happy with the calibre of the group.
“We want to give the fans football they can enjoy and to continue to bring the club forward.”