Peter Campbell produced one of the finest displays of his Glenavon career in the 4-0 victory against Newry City on Boxing Day. The Richhill man, playing as a central striker, terrorised the home defence for the entire 90 minutes and played a key role in creating the first half goals scored by Danny Wallace, Stephen Teggart, and Niall Quinn.

“I didn’t know that I was going to play up front until Simon Kelly spoke to me on the pitch before we had our team talk,” he revealed. “I have not played as an out-and-out centre forward before. But, on the day, it worked well. I managed to bring other players into the game. I was able to run in behind and other times come short. It gave me a lot of freedom to express myself. I really enjoyed it.”

Peter Campbell in action against Newry on Boxing Day.

Peter’s only disappointment was the fact that he did not get amongst the goals himself. “I had that one chance before half-time,” he explained. “I got into a great position and hit the ball really well. I thought that it was going in, but it hit the base of the post. It would be knit picking to complain because, overall, I had a good day and, most importantly, we got the three points.”

Peter’s other two stand-out displays this season were against Carrick Rangers in late October when he scored twice in a fine 3-1 success and the impressive 3-2 BetMcLean League Cup quarter-final victory at the Coleraine Showgrounds in early December when he created the second and third goals.

“The win at Coleraine was a big result for us,” he explained. “We were understrength that night, particularly at the back. Some people probably thought that we would struggle. But that wasn’t the case at all. We played really well.”

Campbell’s role in the second goal at the Ballycastle Road Showgrounds was crucial. “Conor [McCloskey] picked me out with a really good cross-field pass,” he recalled. “Then I drove at their defence. I got level with or a bit beyond the edge of the penalty area and cut inside. There were two defenders blocking the route to goal. Then I slipped. When I did, I had my foot wrapped around the ball so that neither of them could get a toe to it. When I got up again, it ricocheted kindly, and I just hit it as hard as I could with my left foot. It hit a defender and fell kindly for AP who tapped it in. Coming just before half time, it gave us a big lift.”

Peter Campbell with a shot on goal against Newry.

Campbell also helped to fashion the winning strike. “Stephen [Teggart] played the ball to me and I carried it into the penalty-area,” he said. “I turned and got my back to goal. I could see Hendo making his run. I held off a defender and waited before pushing it sideways. Then Cohen blasted it into the roof of the net. It was a great finish.”

Peter, of course, played on the right side of the attack against Coleraine. That is now his preferred position. “Stephen [McDonnell] thinks that I am most effective on the right so that I can cut in and use my left foot,” he said. “I wasn’t sure about it at the start, but now I think he is spot on. I am really enjoying my football again and feel that I am contributing to the team’s success.”

Last season, of course, Gary Hamilton moved Campbell to the right to accommodate Micheal Glynn. “That didn’t really work,” he continued. “I felt uncomfortable. People told me that I wasn’t myself. It wasn’t the right move. But Stephen [McDonnell] has a different way of playing. Now I am getting the ball on the ground and can run at defenders. I am happier on the right.”

During his teens, Peter played for Portadown U-19s. Then he moved to Loughgall. In summer 2020 Gary Hamilton persuaded him to join Glenavon. “I learned a lot at Loughgall under Dean Smith,” he continued. “He was very good to me. But, when the opportunity to move to Mourneview came along, I couldn’t turn it down. Gary was good for me too. He gave me a chance at this level.”

Campbell, in common with most observers, has been surprised at the speed and scale of the turnaround which Stephen McDonnell has masterminded. “Back in September we were struggling to create even one or two goalscoring chances and we were conceding something like three goals a game,” the 26-year-old reflected. “But that has completely changed. Now we are tight at the back and putting defences under pressure. No matter the opposition, we feel that we have a chance. It has been a complete transformation.”

Peter has enjoyed working with McDonnell. “He is very confident about what he does. In fact, he exudes confidence. But not in an arrogant way,” he said. “Virtually everything he says or does is about building you up and getting you into a positive frame of mind.”

Campbell has noted – and been impressed with – the changes which Stephen has made. “There are lots of small things which we now do differently,” he explained. “Simple things like always being at training on time, taking our boots off before we come into the dressing room and leaving our gear right for Blackie [the team attendant]. The manager also expects us to have good manners and treat others with thoughtfulness and respect. It is the way that things should be. When we train, we do so with 100% intensity. Stephen keeps telling us that if we train at a high level we will perform well in matches. There is no shirking or slovenliness. It is a tough, but good, environment.”

Peter in action against Ballymena United at the Warden Street Showgrounds last season.

Campbell says that Stephen is on the pitch with the players at every session. “He decides what we do,” the number ten continued. “He is with us right the way through. Simon [Kelly] helps him. On Thursdays the whole focus is on how we will play on the Saturday. We prepare every aspect – defending, attacking, set pieces, etc. When we come off the training pitch, we know exactly what we have to do and what is expected of us. It is brilliant.”

Glenavon’s performances against the part-time clubs in the Premiership have been particularly impressive. “I think we are better prepared now for those games,” Peter continued. “Stephen and Simon start every week with a plan and ideas about weaknesses in the opposition which they feel we can exploit. Then we work on that and, so far, it has usually paid dividends.”

Much has been said about Stephen McDonnell’s preferred style of play. What is Peter’s take on it? “Possession football is what he is about. He wants us to keep the ball. No aimless punts forward into space or down the channels. If the ball goes long, it must be a pass to a team-mate.”

Peter readily accepts that last season he did not perform with the same consistency that he showed in his first two campaigns. “I didn’t reach the levels I had achieved before. There is no doubt about that,” he said candidly. “My stats for goals, assists, etc. were not up to scratch. But now I feel good. I am completely injury free, and I look forward to every training session.”

He is excited by the prospect of the forthcoming Mid-Ulster derby clash with Portadown in the BetMcLean League Cup semi-finals. “It is disappointing that we didn’t have a Boxing Day derby this year. The League Cup semi-final will, to some extent, make up for that,” he said. “It will be great to see Mourneview Park packed out. The atmosphere will be great. The fact that the winner has a major cup final to look forward to will give the tie a real edge. For me, it can’t come soon enough.”

Campbell has been impressed with teenager Aaron Prendergast’s performances in the centre-forward position. “He has been terrific. He is a great prospect. In training his finishing is top notch. There was a stage, a few months back, when he wasn’t getting a break in front of goal. But now he has started to score regularly, and his confidence is sky high. Look how well he took the fourth goal at Newry.”

Away from football, Peter is a Land Surveyor. He works for his uncle. “I am fortunate in that I enjoy what I do,” he said. “I like being out and about and my job gives me scope for that. I am not really an office person, though that is also a necessary part of the role.” He also recently left his parents’ home in Richhill and moved to a house in Portadown.

Looking ahead, Peter hopes to continue developing as a player. “I have two and half years to go on my contract,” he said. “I am very settled and happy at Glenavon. But I am ambitious. I want to improve and be successful. Reaching the League Cup semi-final has been a big breakthrough, but we want to get to the final and win it and we also want a good run in the Irish Cup. We haven’t done that yet during my time at the club. Why not this season?”