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Lurgan Celtic bound for Belfast's Windsor Park with hope in their hearts

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 01/04/2016

Lurgan Celtic boss Colin Malone celebrates with his players after getting the better of Portadown in the last round
Lurgan Celtic boss Colin Malone celebrates with his players after getting the better of Portadown in the last round
David Healy

They stand just 90 minutes from one of the greatest upsets in the 135-year history of the Irish Cup.

Tomorrow Lurgan Celtic take on mighty Linfield in a semi-final which brings together two teams at opposite ends of the football world.

It is a classic David versus Goliath cup tie, with the odds stacked against Celtic.

Some bookmakers have them at 16/1 to pull off a shock.

The Co Armagh side are playing in their first ever Irish Cup semi-final. By contrast, Linfield are the Irish Cup's most successful team, reaching 61 finals and lifting the trophy on 42 occasions.

But it isn't just history against Lurgan Celtic.

They must play the biggest game in their history without a recognised goalkeeper, with injury and suspension ruling out both their regular options.

Put simply, were the Lurgan club to triumph tomorrow it would be the greatest giant-killing the famous old competition has known.

Celtic boss Colin Malone said: "I would imagine it would be the biggest ever upset.

"I don't think any team would fancy their chances in our position.

"The tie is being played at Windsor Park, Linfield's own ground.

"To try and beat them on their own patch, without a goalkeeper - it's a really tall order."

Lurgan Celtic play in Championship One - a league below the Premiership.

Ex-Northern Ireland captain Neil Lennon played under-age football for the club, as did former Leicester City and Barnsley defender Gerry Taggart.

Before this season they had never even reached the quarter-finals.

But they produced the shock of the last round to dump out neighbours and three-time cup winners Portadown.

Celtic usually play in front of crowds of around 100, but will face a packed Windsor Park tomorrow.

"We have never been to a semi-final," added Malone.

"Actually, we had never even been to a quarter-final before this season, so this is new ground again for us.

"We'd get anything from between 100 and 200 at our games, including home and away support - that would be the norm.

"But we will take a decent crowd. We took 600 to Portadown in the last round so hopefully we can go a bit higher this time around."

Linfield, local football's most successful side, are second in the Danske Bank Premiership, and huge favourites.

The Blues, managed by former Northern Ireland striker David Healy, are on a five-match winning run.

Celtic's chances are not helped by the fact that goalkeepers Conor McCorry and Jamie McAtavey are missing.

Outfield players Raymond Fitzpatrick and Dale Malone - the manager's son - could take over.

Adding to the intrigue is Malone's two previous spells as manager of a second Lurgan club, Glenavon.

They play Crusaders in the other semi-final this evening.

It means the possibility of an all-Lurgan cup final remains on the cards.

Malone, however, is realistic about Celtic's prospects.

"To get to the semi-final of an Irish Cup is a great achievement for us," he added.

"We've done a lot of hard work already, but tomorrow is probably a bridge too far."

Belfast Telegraph

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