IRISH LEAGUE: Glenavon fighting the pain game going into Ballymena United visit

Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton feels mental strength marks the main challenge facing Irish League players across the frantic festive fixture list that demands four Danske Bank Premiership dates inside 11 days.

The Lurgan Blues stand on six points from derby delight over Dungannon Swifts and Warrenpoint Town over a four-day test.

Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Now Glenavon hit the road for a tough trip to Ballymena United before wrapping up the holiday season’s schedule on Tuesday at Ards.

The current top-flight campaign appears one of the most competitive in recent memory as only 15 points divide the leading five sides - with Glenavon holding a cushion in third over Linfield and Cliftonville but six behind second-placed Crusaders, although with the advantage of having played one game fewer.

Hamilton views the workload as a significant strain on his squad of part-time players, especially a panel operating with limited experienced options compared to many of the rival sides.

“We decided to give the boys the night off training on Thursday in light of the schedule,” said Hamilton.

“We have asked them to keep ticking over by maybe going to the pool or something similar but felt it was the right thing to do to avoid a normal group session.

“We will obviously keep in touch with any individuals carrying knocks as aches and pains at this time of the year are another issue due to so many games.

“Recovery time is vital but it is also important to focus on the mental demands and the tiredness that can come with that challenge.

“Of course, all teams are in the same position and I do think it is a tough ask for part-time players as they are not robots and the human element comes into play.

“Sometimes I think maybe we ask too much of them as a coaching staff to be honest and need to be more understanding of how hard it can be to maintain the high standards set so far with so little space between games.

“We also have the added strain of playing for so long last weekend with 10 men against a Dungannon Swifts side who will always make you work hard due to how they play.

“Then we came up against a Warrenpoint Town side with plenty of attacking pace.

“We have been using probably the same 12 or 13 players for much of the season so one night off training will hopefully help recharge the batteries.

“We do not want to be using fatigue as an excuse as coping with these demands helps separate the top players from the rest.”

Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey will be aiming to close out his year of progress with another positive result.

A successful 2017 included League Cup glory for the club, a rise up the Danske Bank Premiership rankings and return to European football.

With the foundations in place off last season’s impressive form, United entered the current campaign with added expectations.

Jeffrey has cited a crushing run of injury issues behind a struggle for consistency across the initial weeks of the campaign.

However, an upturn in results across the past few months has left United ready for Glenavon bolstered by nine wins and a draw across all competitions on home soil since early October.

Defeat last Friday to Crusaders featured the drive demanded by Jeffrey despite the scoreline. United then held league leaders Coleraine to a share of the soils on Boxing Day thanks to another spirited show.

“I’m pleased with the performance levels today, as I was on Friday night,” said Jeffrey in his post-match interview with BBC Sport NI following the Boxing Day draw. “These are tough games, we have had Crusaders away and Coleraine away and next up we have Glenavon at home.

“So, we are playing all the top, top sides and these are good challenges for the players.”