Kyle Neill: Derby wish as Portadown player becomes Glenavon coach

Kyle Neill after scoring for Glenavon in the 2014 Irish Cup final. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Kyle Neill after scoring for Glenavon in the 2014 Irish Cup final. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

In a career of medals and memories spanning more than a double decade, the eight days closing March and kicking off April of 2019 will forever stand as significant for Kyle Neill.

The 41-year-old started last week as a Portadown player and ended it a Glenavon coach.

Kyle Neill (right) competing for Portadown during the final season of a memorable Irish League playing career.

Kyle Neill (right) competing for Portadown during the final season of a memorable Irish League playing career.

Defeat to Dundela by Portadown proved Neill’s final Irish League appearance, marking a disappointing full stop to life as a player but far from the final word on his career in football.

With the frustration of that Bluefin Sport Championship loss still fresh, a phone call from Gary Hamilton signalled a return to the Danske Bank Premiership and Neill was back in Glenavon blue and, seven days on from suffering that Ports loss, celebrating an injury-time win over Crusaders in Lurgan.

“It was tough making that call to leave Portadown as my intention was to weigh up my options for coaching at the end of the season but certainly stay at the club if possible,” said Neill. “But when Gary made the offer I realised it was too good a chance to turn down.

“Not too many opportunities come along like this and I had to accept, even if it then hit me on Friday after my first training session that it was all over for me as a player.

“It all happened so quickly over the space of a few days and one day I was driving home thinking about the Ports defeat and our chances of getting promoted to then returning to Glenavon and starting this next chapter.

“When I was at Glenavon as a player, I could see first-hand the work put in by Gary to revamp the youth set-up and how that worked out so well.

“I can see similarities with Matthew Tipton at Portadown in terms of his faith in young players and that vision to really establish opportunities in the firsts.

“I loved it at Portadown so only this chance would have been enough for me to leave.”

Neill holds a special place in Mid-Ulster football history as a goalscorer in Irish Cup finals for both Portadown and Glenavon. With success and strong ties to each club, it comes as no surprise he views the derby rivalry one of great importance on a level both personal and professional.

“People have, so far, been great about me leaving Portadown to go to Glenavon and it means a lot given the rivalry between the clubs,” said Neill, a lifelong Ports fan who left the Lurgan Blues to try and steer his hometown club back to senior status. “But it is a rivalry that needs to happen for the good of football in this area and the Irish League overall.

“I always loved playing in the Mid-Ulster derby games, big occasions and you see the brilliant numbers Portadown still enjoy even at Championship level and the impact on Glenavon without that Boxing Day match.

“Matthew was brilliant with me when I had the conversation about leaving Portadown to take up the coaching role at Glenavon and I really hope to see the club back up in the Premiership.

“It would be brilliant to have a Boxing Day derby back next season.

“Walking back in at Mourneview and catching up with so many familiar faces was nice last week and then even better to start things off with a win.

“I’ve been made to feel really welcome, especially in the changing room and with Andy and Mark Ferguson, plus the rest of the backroom team.

“It’s going to take time to make that adjustment from player to coach but I feel I can bring something to the table immediately given my experiences.

“I have seen enough in my career that I can pass on advice or talk to players, hopefully knowing there’s a certain amount of respect and awareness that only recently I had the same mindset.

“It is early days but I am really enjoying it.”