Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sniffer Goes To Glenavon

As the walkthechalk.com empire continues to cast a critical eye over the Irish Premier League, a somewhat tardy arrival at Mourneview Park was the scene of this week's lesson. A hastily arranged loan car made the journey possible at the last minute, after a week spent rueing my decision to teach Mrs. Sniffer to drive.

I pointed two fingers to the tree huggers and sped off in the direction of Newry. A pit stop at the Money Exchange left me rubbing my arse, but there was no time to spare. I figured out how to turn the wipers off just as I arrived in Lurgan. It was just after three, not bad. Swallowing my masculine leanings, I decided to ask for directions. Normally, I would stop in the vicinity of an attractive female in these circumstances, but time was of the essence.

The sensible thing to do was to ask a male, if you want proper directions they're you only man. Unfortunately, I happened upon one of the lesser lights of my species; a man who shared a remarkable facet of my wife's inabilities. He could easily distinguish between left and right i.e. left is one direction and right is the opposite direction, he just didn't know which was which.

Ergo, Paul Murphy had already served up the first course when I arrived on the deserted terrace at Glenavon FC. The Sky Blues' supporters seemed resigned, as if they knew this was to be one of 'those' days. For the remainder of the opening half Ballymena lacked everything; creativity, cohesion, a cutting edge, a solid rearguard. This was the side which had put Glentoran to the sword in their previous outing.

The Glentoran side which currently boasts the most prolific strike force in the top league, reinforced by a stubborn defence is the one of which I speak. And here were there conquerors showing all the ability of a Playstation Eleven in the hands of a newborn baby.

And what of Glenavon?

The first thing that struck me was the quality of there football. No doubt emboldened by the comedic efforts of the opposition, they were stroking the ball around with a swagger. Their play was expansive; Steven Caffrey brought solidity to their midfield before he was called ashore, ably assisted by Conor Walsh. From front to back they worked hard to protect the lead gifted to them in the first 45 minutes.

When Tommy Wright's side emerged after the break with the intention of saving a minute degree of face, they were regularly repelled by the in-your-face hunger of the Lurgan Blues. Inevitably the visitors had a couple of opportunities, but Paul Rice was equal to them. Ballymena's goal when it came was a triumph of farce on a day ruled by the bizarre; rather than a carefully constructed move.

The introduction of Paul Walsh was a welcome treat, his scampering runs down the right hand side forcing the Sky Blues to regroup; the shot that struck the woodwork was a bitesize depiction of divine skill. For regular watchers of Colin Malone's men this home victory was a rare gift. And they certainly showed their appreciation.

I have oft been present at better attended games than this one - but the atmosphere created by the tangible passion of the fans present enhanced the occasion hugely. Mourneview Park is a credit to Glenavon, and the fans from both sides were vocal and knowledgable. Football in Northern Ireland will always have a future with supporters like those present last Saturday. Full credit to those who assembled especially to give Tommy Wright an instant review of his side's performance - balanced with some valuable advice - at full time.

There is a huge sense of fans identifying with their club and their team, and it warms the heart on the coldest of terraces. It does nothing for the toes though.

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