Football/Soccer

Glentoran's Gavin Peers busy on and off the pitch

Glentoran's Gavin Peers (right) celebrates his winning penalty against Portadown in the Irish Cup.

GAVIN Peers could be forgiven if his mind drifted off football, or even if he took a break from the game.

The Glentoran centre half’s proverbial plate is Partridge-sized and full to overflowing: studying for final year exams in his Business Management degree, travelling up and down from work in his native Dublin, and preparing for the arrival of his third child in March.

Oh, and yesterday was his 10-year-old son’s birthday.

Yet playing is a release he says: “It clears my head, the football. I’m so busy at the moment with college exams, assignments, up and down to Belfast, and obviously my job as well, I don’t really have a minute. The kids are missing me as well, saying ‘Can we do something?’ and I say ‘I have to study!’”

The 34-year-old certainly showed no signs of pressure getting to him last weekend when he coolly converted a penalty to win an Irish Cup shoot-out against Portadown – even though that was the first such scenario for him despite his lengthy playing career.

“I didn’t have any fear. I’ve been involved [in penalty shoot-outs], but I’ve never taken one. I was meant to be next in the 2010 [FAI] Cup Final [with Sligo Rovers] but thankfully we won it before it came to me. That would have been a bit more nerve-wracking, in front of 36,000. You just pick your spot and hit it, if it goes in, it goes in.”

The Glens can put the Irish Cup on the back-burner for a few weeks, but there’s no respite for Peers himself, including working on his degree at Griffith College, Dublin.

A serious knee injury back in 2013 set him on that track. Football had curtailed his academic studies as a teenager: “I left school after Junior Cert when I went to England [to Blackburn Rovers in 2002]. I did a BTec National Sports Certificate over there, but it wasn’t the best, I’d have liked to be better guided back then.

“I was hmm-ing and hah-ing what to do after football after the [cruciate knee ligament] injury, thinking, ‘This could happen again, my career could be over, so I better start doing something’.

“I already have the coaching badges, I have my [Uefa] ‘A’ Licence already, so I thought I’d better do something outside football as well, just in case I don’t stay in football.”

That remains the ideal, though: “I work in the FAI, I’m enjoying that, I always want to stay in football. Further down the line I’d want to coach or manage. Football is my passion.”

For now, though, he does rewarding work in Dublin’s Kilnamanagh district: “I’m an assistant co-ordinator with the ETB [Education and Training Board], a level 5 sports and recreation coaching course – it’s to do with social inclusion, getting people the qualifications to try to get them back into work.”

With so much else to think about he’s delighted to be enjoying his football. Signed a year ago by Gary Smyth, he’s loving learning off Mick McDermott and Paul ‘Windy’ Millar.

The Glens are right in the title mix, on a 13-match unbeaten run in the League, including 10 wins, one of them 3-0 over arch-rivals Linfield on St Stephen’s Day.

Peers keeps their high-flying form in perspective, though, insisting: “It’s just nice to be up the top half of the table, because when I came in we were around ninth. We did well and nearly got into Europe via the play-offs.

“We started off a bit slowly [this season] but then we’ve kicked on and we just need to keep the standards high.”

That testing tussle with Championship leaders Portadown was excellent preparation for the rest of this month, with games against teams all below them in the table, whom the Glens will be expected to beat – bottom-of-the-table Warrenpoint this afternoon, followed by Institute, Larne, and Glenavon.

“I had a little feeling before the [Portadown] game,” recalls Peers, “and was trying to gee people up and make sure we were at it.

“I think these are the tougher games because complacency can creep in. You have to try to get yourselves up for these. We’ll need the fans to create the atmosphere, home and away, and we need to gee ourselves.”

With the likes of Peers leading by example, Glens fans should be relaxed about their team passing those tests.

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Football/Soccer