Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena United won't slip on cup banana skin

By Graham Luney

Stephen McBride – one of only two men in the Ballymena United side who have lifted the Irish Cup – insists there is no chance of the Sky Blues underestimating Queen's University in Saturday's semi-final at The Oval.

The final four clash is being dubbed a David v Goliath fixture as the Championship 2 side aim to shoot down the Premiership outfit managed by Linfield and Glenavon legend Glenn Ferguson.

For the three Premiership sides left in the tournament the motivation to lift the glittering prize in May is intense.

But what a golden opportunity for the Sky Blues, who haven't lifted the trophy since 1989, while Glenavon – who take on Crusaders at Windsor Park in the other semi-final – last reached the showpiece game in 1997.

No-one expected Queen's University to reach this stage of the tournament but after seeing off Lurgan Celtic, Limavady United, Lisburn Distillery and Bangor, Peter Thompson's side are 90 minutes away from a place in the final.

Left-back McBride and former Linfield right-back Jim Ervin are the only players in the United side who have lifted the trophy.

Former Crusaders defender McBride helped the Crues overcome Cliftonville in the 2009 final before having to settle for a loser's medal when Linfield triumphed over the Shore Road side in 2011 and 2012.

The draw was kind to the Sky Blues faithful but McBride, who arrived at the Showgrounds last summer, knows the Braidmen will face fired-up opponents.

"All the reports we are getting about Queen's tell us they are a very strong team," said McBride.

"We will not be underestimating them. Shocks can happen in cup competitions and I can remember being injured at Crusaders and watching from the sidelines while Brantwood put us out.

"Getting to the semi-finals is a great achievement and they obviously have good players and a great spirit there.

"Most of our players haven't been as far as an Irish Cup final but myself and Jim (Ervin) can remind them of how special it is and, of course, Glenn (Ferguson) has been there many times.

"It's the biggest day in the Irish League calendar and it would be horrible to come so close and let the opportunity slip. But this club is moving in the right direction and getting stronger. An Irish Cup final appearance would be a big stride forward."

* The Northern Ireland Football League has confirmed dates for any promotion and relegation play off matches to the Danske Bank Premiership.

The first leg will be on Tuesday, April 29 with the Championship team at home.

The rematch will be on Friday, May 2 at the home of the Premiership side.

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