Gary Hamilton is confident of guiding Glenavon to Cup glory

Glenavon player-manager Gary Hamilton  
Sean O'Neill

GLENAVON player-manager Gary Hamilton has tasted defeat against Linfield in the Irish Cup final before, but is hopeful history will not repeat itself on Saturday.

Hamilton was on the losing side in the 2002 decider as a Portadown player, when the Windsor Blues won 2-1. Victory for his charges on Saturday afternoon would cap what has been another impressive season for the Lurgan men.

Although finishing well behind the top two in the league, Glenavon bettered last season’s points tally and kept more clean sheets this time around. The feeling the club are getting closer to competing regularly with the big guns can be strengthened by the clinching of what would be a seventh Irish Cup.

“It’s a big day out and one that players want to be a part of,” said Hamilton.

“It is better to win the Irish League, but the Cup final is the best one-off occasion in the Irish League calendar, but it’s really only memorable if you win it. We have good memories of 2014 - the boys thoroughly deserved their win on that day. That’s what their aim has to be this time around.

“Last time, Mark Patton and Kyle Neill were the heroes. This time, it’s there for somebody to be a hero again, so it’s down to whoever handles the occasion better. If we don’t perform and we struggle with the occasion then Linfield, obviously, are more than capable of turning us over.”

Glenavon reached the final by beating Harland and Wolff Welders, Glentoran, Loughgall and Crusaders. In the semi-final, ex-Millwall striker Kevin Braniff scored all four goals and the club have been buoyed by the striker signing a one-year contract extension on Thursday.

If he is joined up front, as is expected, by Eoin Bradley, there are few better strike partnerships around. Joel Cooper and Andy Hall supply the ammunition from the wings, while a solid defence comprising able performers such as Simon Kelly, Kris Lindsay and Rhys Marshall is well marshalled by former Linfield goalkeeper Johnny Tuffey. They will need to be on red alert against a Linfield side who, in disposing of Ballymena United, Armagh City, Cliftonville and Lurgan Celtic to reach the final, rifled in 16 goals and conceded only one.

“There’ll be a massive crowd there - a lot of boys playing in their first cup final on both sides, so whoever out of the two teams handles the occasion the better will probably go on and win it because there is not much between the two sides in terms of ability levels,” said Hamilton.

“Yes, Linfield finished above us [in the league] but, on our day, we’re capable of matching anybody. David [Healy] has got them on a really good run. They didn’t get off to a good start when he first took over but, since that, they have probably been the in-form team along with Crusaders. Rightly so, they’ve finished second in the league because they have won more games than the rest of us.

“We know that, with [Andrew] Waterworth and [Paul] Smyth, they have very, very good strikers and two boys who can hurt you if you’re not switched on. We need to make sure that they’re quiet because, if we don’t, then they can run the show. But also, on the other hand - we’ve got a few players too that are of good ability.”

The outcome of Saturday afternoon’s tussle is a tough one to call. Although the bookies make the Belfast side clear favourites, it is hard to disagree with Hamilton’s assertion there is not much between the two sides. Their four league meetings this year resulted in a 4-3 home win for Linfield, a 3-2 home win for Glenavon, a 1-1 draw at Windsor Park and a 1-0 away win for Linfield in what was effectively a run-out for the reserves for both teams a week ago.

The teams have met each other on three previous occasions in the Irish Cup final. In 1922, Linfield were 2-0 winners, while post-war, they met in 1961 when Glenavon were 5-1 winners and in 1992, when the mid-Ulster side won 2-1.

If Hamilton’s men are able to blunt what is a potent Linfield attack, they have enough firepower themselves to upset the odds and make it two Irish Cups in three years.

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