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Big Two must Box clever

By Scott Young

Published 22/12/2015

Linfield's Jimmy Callacher tussles with Glentoran midfielder Stephen McAlorum
Linfield's Jimmy Callacher tussles with Glentoran midfielder Stephen McAlorum

Only the Irish Cup final is a bigger game than the Boxing Day Big Two clash. Big Two games are always special regardless of when they are played but the festive fixture is extra special because supporters who wouldn't normally go to Irish League matches return home and contribute to the electric atmosphere.

There's a bigger crowd and bigger hype with so much more at stake.

If you win these games you will feel on top of the world but if you lose you will want the ground to swallow you up.

Players and managers make big sacrifices over the Christmas period and family time is cut short because of the big derbies.

Once you have had your Christmas dinner you start thinking about the big game and how to win it.

Managers think about tactics, players think about scoring the winning goal.

With the greatest of respect to all the other clubs there is no greater pleasure or challenge than beating your biggest rivals on Boxing Day.

I know this match has lost a little significance in terms of the title race in recent years but when the Blues and Glens get their act together the picture will change again.

My first Big Two game as a player with Glentoran passed me by and I promised myself I wouldn't let that happen again.

After joining the Glens in 1999 I had played against Coleraine, Newry, Ballymena and Omagh and I had heard the hype around the Big Two games but when that moment arrived at Windsor Park in front of a restricted crowd of 9,000, the occasion was a massive shock to me.

I did not contribute in the way I should have done as the game flew past me. Thankfully, Pete Batey came up with an equaliser but I vowed never to let that happen to me again.

It was one thing performing well against so called lesser sides but you felt that proper Linfield or Glentoran players delivered against their biggest rivals - then you're a player.

The one big aspect of the game I miss is that feeling of elation when you beat Linfield and that's why anyone plays the game, for the chance to deliver on the big occasion and you must thrive in those atmospheres.

One of our Boxing Day clashes was wiped out by the snow but we won the rescheduled match in March when Gary Hamilton scored so although there has been so many draws over the years, I should record that as a Boxing Day win!

There's no feeling like walking out to play in the big game a few minutes before kick-off but if you want to be successful as a footballer you have to walk the walk and deliver.

Even David Healy, a Northern Ireland legend who enjoyed a remarkable playing career, is in for a shock on Boxing Day when the spotlight is on him.

Until you experience the game as a player or manager you won't know what it feels like... how intense that spotlight is.

Glens boss Alan Kernaghan is in the same boat but they are both strong characters who can thrive in this hostile environment.

With the Glens recording a fantastic win over Cliftonville and the Blues hitting back after an awful run of results, it promises to be another explosive affair at The Oval on Saturday.

Expect fireworks.

Belfast Telegraph

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