OPINION: Europa League win a triumph of collective Glenavon spirit over Molde’s superior strength

Glenavon's Andrew Doyle celebrates the 2-1 victory over Molde.
Glenavon's Andrew Doyle celebrates the 2-1 victory over Molde.

Gary Hamilton can recall how, as a teenager, he would watch from the Mourneview Park stands when Glenavon represented the town and Irish League in European competition.

As a player he spent a few months in Norway, on loan from Blackburn Rovers thanks to the advice of club colleague Henning Berg.

On Wednesday night, Hamilton added another European memory to that career scrapbook by guiding his boyhood club to a result that ranks alongside the peak moments of Irish League sides on the continental stage.

The significance of the achievement was not lost on Hamilton - citing the 2-1 victory over Molde as “top of the list” in terms of pride at a single performance across the 37-year-old’s career and connection to the game.

It was a personal triumph played out in front of over 600 people and, crucially, the culmination of collective strength cultivated by the coaching team’s gameplan and enforced to perfection against an opponent considered superior by any logical measure.

Exhausted but energised after one of the most gruelling but glorious games any of those 14 home players given pitch time can ever expect to experience, Glenavon left the field with the strongest possible reward for merging steel, spirit and skill into a sole display.

Molde arrived with the reputation of a free-scoring full-time side flying high off impressive domestic form and with European pedigree that included back-to-back wins over Glasgow Celtic as recently as 2015.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may be charged with the expectancy generated by such admirable pedigree but won hearts and minds in Lurgan with a willingness to embrace his own slice of European history.

Solskjaer forever cemented legendary status at Manchester United with his role in the club’s ground-breaking 1999 treble-winning season of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League trophy triumphs.

He took time to pose with fans of United - and the beautiful game in general - before and after official affairs on Wednesday, plus Glenavon staff and children including Hamilton’s sons.

However, to consider Solskjaer and Molde adopted anything less than full focus on the target between the first and final whistles would discredit the measure of the Glenavon display.

Molde arrived in Lurgan with players on reported five-figures weekly wages and eight-figure transfer valuations - a fact reflected in the 17-strong guestlist of scouts from clubs such as Arsenal, Southampton and Feyenoord.

Hamilton’s pre-match viewpoint centred on the opportunity the platform provided for his own young prospects and both Mark Sykes and Rhys Marshall grabbed the spotlight, the former dynamic and at the heart of everything positive by Glenavon, the latter with a goal and assist on top of his indefatigable contribution.

However, acclaim must be shared across the board - not least the resolute defensive display marshalled by Andrew Doyle and counter-attacking threat served up thanks to the width of Josh Daniels and Andy Hall.

With established players like Sammy Clingan, Andrew Mitchell and James Singleton unavailable, Hamilton turned to summer signings.

Scotland-based Gary Muir is staying with his former Lisburn Distillery boss Paul Kirk to allow full integration over pre-season with his team-mates and Niall Grace managed to bridge the gap between Championship level and the European stage by posting running distances comparable to full-time players.

Irrespective of how the away leg in Norway develops, Glenavon can draw inspiration from the perspiration behind a first-leg victory born out of those multiple moments and individual strengths towards a group goal.