Sky's the limit for Sykes with hard work says Gary Hamilton
Danske Bank Premiership: Glenavon v Warrenpoint Town (today, 3pm)
GLENAVON manager Gary Hamilton says the hard work really beings now for Mark Sykes after the midfielder got his move to full-time football in England yesterday.
It was confirmed yesterday afternoon that English League One club Oxford United had agreed a fee with the Lurgan Blues for Sykes, subject to him agreeing personal terms and passing a medical.
Sykes had looked set for a move to Port Vale in League Two but, in a statement released yesterday, Glenavon said they had received a better offer from Oxford.
The League One club is already home to former Crusaders star Gavin Whyte, who has flourished since his move to England and full-time football last summer.
“He's got his opportunity now and it's up to him to go and take it,” said Hamilton last night.
“He has the potential to do whatever he wants to do, but it's up to Mark now. It's like Gavin Whyte, he got the opportunity and he went over there and has taken his chance and become an international.”
Hamilton also insisted there were no mixed feelings at the club about losing their most promising player and that they knew for a long time Sykes was destined for a move to England.
“We wanted the kid to get a chance,” the Glenavon manager added.
“We knew from a young age, he played at the Oval one day when he was still fifth year in school. He ran the show that day and we beat Glentoran 4-0 with five teenagers in the team.
“Whenever we were trying to challenge him to make him a better player, we said to him, ‘you have to get into the first team regularly and you have to challenge yourself to get across the water because you've got the potential and the ability'. Obviously, Mark has a lot of that and there were a couple of years there where he probably, with the ability he has, he didn't develop the other side of his game as well as he could've done and that's probably why it took him two years longer to get across the water.
“We knew he was listening and learning and we all wanted to do him a good turn and get him across the water. That's what we wanted for him and he needed to listen to experienced people who had been there and done it, the likes of Sammy Clingan and the coaching staff at the football club.”
Along with his natural ability, Hamilton says the hard work and greater attention to the defensive side of the game has now paid off for Sykes.
“Sometimes, ability's just not enough – you have to work hard and track back and learn the other side of the game,” he said.
“Maybe, over the last couple of seasons, when scouts were coming to watch him, they probably seen the ability that he had, they maybe didn't see that he had the other side of his game in terms of his defensive responsibilities and getting back behind the ball quick enough. But thankfully, between last season and especially this season, he's shown a lot more of that and, with the ability he has, he was always going to get a move if he could develop that side of his game.
“He's done himself no harm with his performances for [the North's] U21s, I know [Ian] Barraclough rates him very highly and I know Michael O'Neill does as well.”