Ballyclare boss spurred on by Cup heartache
Ballyclare Comrades duo Eddie Hill and Denver Gage are planning to take out their Irish Cup frustration on Crusaders at Seaview today.
The Belfast Telegraph Championship One side are the underdogs looking to sink their teeth into Stephen Baxter's men in an intriguing quarter-final tie.
Manager Hill and his new centre-back Gage still bear the scars of Irish Cup knockout pain but a victory today would banish those headaches once and for all.
Hill was part of the Ballymena United team that suffered semi-final heartbreak against Larne at The Oval in 2005.
Another man who used to don Sky Blues colours is Gage – he was part of the United team that fancied their chances of Irish Cup glory in 2012 but Newry City went on to face Linfield in the semi-final after winning their case over the eligibility of Alan Davidson, who lined up for the Braidmen.
Eddie is hoping his boys can perform a minor miracle against the Crues but he knows his side face a mammoth task on the Shore Road.
"We will give it our best shot," said the 36-year-old Dixon Park chief.
"But we have to acknowledge that Crusaders are one of the best teams in the country.
"Stephen (Baxter) is one of the best managers too and his players are fantastic.
"It's a huge challenge but we aren't going into the game with a negative mindset.
"If my players can give me 110% then that's all I can ask.
"This is my first full season as Comrades boss and it's about progressing by taking small steps.
"I was in the Ballymena side that lost that semi-final to Larne and it was hard to take.
"Losing out on an Irish Cup final was very disappointing but hopefully this Comrades team can march on.
"Championship Two was a false place for this team but results put us there and we have had to fight our way back to Championship One.
"Some of our boys have never played in an Irish Cup quarter-final, we have young boys who are still learning the game but Denver (Gage) and Chris Getty have experience at Ballymena United and this is cup football, 11 v 11 and anything can happen."
Gage has fond memories of playing for his hometown side Ballymoney against Glentoran at The Oval in the Irish Cup, though the Alan Davidson saga was a bitter pill to swallow.
"I think the Glens beat us 2-1 but it was a great occasion," said the 26-year-old who joined Comrades in January from the Sky Blues.
"At Ballymena we beat Newry in the Irish Cup but Alan Davidson, despite scoring that day, was not eligible.
"The fact that the winners went on to play Linfield in the semis made it difficult to take.
"But we have a young, hungry side here at Ballyclare and it would be great if we could take the Crues back to Dixon Park where we have only been beaten once all season.
"Our striker Chris Trussell can cause some damage if we can give him service."