Jamie Doran and Aaron Prendergast, two of Glenavon’s brightest young stars, recently spent ten days in Orleans, France, with the Northern Ireland Under-19 squad. The teenagers took part in 2023 Under-19 European Championships qualification matches against France, Rumania and Norway. Although Northern Ireland lost all three fixtures, it was not all doom and gloom. Gerard Lyttle’s side played some excellent football, particularly in the opening clash with the French.   

Dornan started that game, playing in a right-wing back role. He was also a second half substitute versus Rumania and Norway. Prendergast made a substitute appearance in the first game and started the second.

“We were very disappointed to lose against the French,” reflected Doran. “Although they are a top side, probably one of the best in the world, we had a lot of possession, particularly after half-time, and created some scoring chances.”

Prendergast found the second game versus Romania a challenging assignment. “They were a good team, tough to play against,” he explained. “I was up front and probably didn’t see as much of the ball as I would have liked. But we battled hard and, overall, did quite well.”

Jamie Doran and Aaron Prendergast, who have both celebrated their 19th birthdays since Christmas, have signed three-year professional contracts for Glenavon. Their emergence has been one of the most pleasing aspects of the season.

“It has been great to break into the first-team,” reflected Doran. “That was my ambition back in August. But it was really hard. We have so many good central midfielders. Back in January I was getting a bit frustrated, but, at the same time, I knew that eventually an opportunity would come. When that happened, it was all about taking it. Thankfully, so far, I have managed to do that.”

“The season started with a bang, scoring that late equaliser at Ballymena in our opening game,” said Prendergast. “After that I have been a bit in and out, but I feel that I have made a contribution.”

Jamie Doran is a native of the Ballyholland area of Newry. He is the latest in a long line of players from the frontier city to play for Glenavon – Peter Watson, Joe Marley, Con Davey, Ray McGuigan and Andy Coleman all wore the blue and white with distinction.

Doran, a Sport and Exercise student at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown, started his career with Windmill Stars. In the mid-2010s he played in Windmill sides which reached the Northern Ireland Under-11s and Under-12s Cup Final, winning once. In 2019 he represented County Armagh at the SuperCupNI (formerly the Milk Cup), starring, at Under-16 level, against Glasgow Rangers and Mexican club, Strikers. When he was named County Armagh’s “Player of the Tournament,” there were opportunities to join several Premiership clubs. “I chose Glenavon,” he recalled. “I thought it would give me the best chance to improve as a player and eventually break into the senior game. I don’t regret my decision.”

Doran enjoyed the time he spent in the Glenavon Academy. “The coaches were brilliant,” he says. “They were always positive and encouraged us to play the ball out from the back. That’s the type of football I want to be involved in.”

Aaron Prendergast, a native of West Belfast, took his first steps in the game with Celtic Boys. He subsequently joined Colin Valley, the Linfield Academy and the Cliftonville Academy. He put pen to paper for Glenavon after leaving Solitude, at the age of 16. “I came to Mourneview Park not knowing quite what to expect, but it has been a great move for me,” he said “I have enjoyed every minute. I am with a great club, particularly for players starting off. Gary Hamilton isn’t afraid to give young lads a chance. That counts for a lot.”

Prendergast is the youngest of four boys. His older brothers all play football. He found home a nurturing environment. “I grew up with the game,” he reflected. “There was always a ball and an opportunity to play.” He presently works for EcoSparkNI, an electrical company owned by his brother, Matthew. “It is good to be in a family business. It means that I have no problem taking time off when I have football commitments.”

Jamie and Aaron have recently produced stand-out performances. The former’s display in the 2-0 win at the Oval and the latter’s cameo contribution in the 2-1 comeback home victory versus Coleraine come to mind.

“That was a great win,” said Jamie. “We played some good football in the first half, weathered a bit of a storm after half time and then came strong again. Its days like that which stick in the memory.”

“Sometimes I make my biggest impact coming off the bench and that is what happened against Coleraine,” reflected Aaron. “We needed a spark to get back into the match. It was great to play a part in the move that led to Fitzy’s equaliser.”

Whilst Jamie has scored important goals against Crusaders and, ironically, Newry City, Aaron has hit the bullseye against Ballymena United, Glentoran and Dungannon Swifts twice.

“I don’t see goalscoring as a big part of my game,” said Doran. “I get as much pleasure playing a crucial pass or delivering a good cross. But, of course, it is great when you get on the end of something.”

“Strikers always want to score,” said Prendergast. “I am no different. I have enjoyed all four that have gone in so far, but particularly the long-range effort at Stangmore Park. I practise taking free kicks, but I even surprised myself with the accuracy of that one. It has been the highlight of the year for me,”

Both teenagers recognise the benefits of playing under a manager like Gary Hamilton. “The boss is great because he is so positive,” said Jamie Doran. “He tells me to try things, take risks, and doesn’t complain when they don’t come off. That is music to the ears of an attacking midfielder.”

“It is good that Gary was a striker himself,” said Aaron Prendergast. “He has so much experience. He has shown me the positions I should take up on the pitch in different situations. He tells me to gamble. That’s what happened with the equaliser at Ballymena. I made a run into a dangerous area and when the defender played a poor back pass, I was there to take advantage.”

At the end of February 2023 Doran committed to Glenavon long-term. Prendergast did so a month earlier. “It was an easy decision,” said Jamie. “The club have been good to me and given me a chance.” Aaron was equally content to sign an extended contract. “I am very happy at Mourneview Park,” he said. “There is a great atmosphere in the dressing room.”

Now the teenagers’ focus is on helping Glenavon to clinch seventh place in the Danske Bank Premiership table and that crucial Europa Conference League Qualification berth. “I think we can do it,” said Doran, “but no one is looking further ahead than our next match.” “Things are going well at the moment,” added Prendergast. “The boss’s new system is working a treat. Hopefully we make it. It would be a dream to play in Europe.”