Belfast Telegraph

Reaching final as boss better than playing: McAree

By Stuart McKinley

Leading Dungannon Swifts out for the Irish Cup final as manager would be even bigger than doing so as a player for Rodney McAree.

It is now a decade since the Swifts only previous final appearance, when McAree was a big part of their run to the decider, as well as having a key impact on the big day itself when they lost to Linfield on penalties.

His father Joe, a man synonymous with the Swifts as a former player, long-serving manager and then chairman, famously missed his son scoring the goal that made it 2-2 five minutes before half-time as he was making his way around the stadium to do a pitch-side television interview during the break, but did witness him finishing from the spot before Alan Mannus saved Mark McAllister's strike to win the Cup for Linfield.

Ten years on, McAree junior is now responsible for trying to continue the long-term project that his father spent so much of his life building and he is hungry to topple the Blues and take the next step.

"I think getting to the Irish Cup final would mean more to me actually now that I am manager as it did as a player," said McAree.

"What I remember now is falling and cutting my head open after the final.

"It was a fantastic day out and the build-up and everything was just something else. When you get to a final the amount of coverage you get, the amount of people who want to speak to you and the publicity is fantastic.

"It's a wee bit off just yet, it's 90 minutes, maybe 120 minutes with penalties away from us, but it would be great to live it again.

"Terry Fitzpatrick was playing that day, I played and although there aren't any other links I've had some of those old players on looking for tickets, wanting to go to the match and support us."

While it doesn't take a genius to make Linfield the favourites to reach the decider, McAree is under no illusions as to the size of the task facing his team.

They suffered 4-0 and 4-1 defeats at home to the Blues in the Premiership this season, but a 1-1 draw at Windsor Park plus the ability that he sees in his squad are giving the 42-year-old belief that an upset can happen and Linfield's long wait to regain major silverware will continue.

"Anybody outside of the two clubs will look at it and say 'Linfield are going to win that' and naturally so," said McAree.

"Linfield will be the favourites. They are a massive club with a massive reputation; they have won trophies galore over the years.

"We have struggled to beat them on many occasions. We've drawn with them once this season and taken two tankings, so it sways in the favour of Linfield, but it's a one-off, it's one that we look forward to. We'll give our all and if our all isn't good enough then we'll accept that, but we'll certainly go in with the aim of progressing. We won't be going to Mourneview for a day out, we want to go and compete, we want to try to achieve something and we want to progress."

The Irish FA decided to take the semi-finals away from the newly refurbished Windsor Park this season, which has left McAree with mixed emotions.

He will use the incentive of getting to Windsor Park as a carrot for his team, but he also believes that had the game been at the National Stadium, Linfield may have felt the pressure.

"Maybe if it had been at Windsor it might have put a little bit more pressure on the home side as such," he said.

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