Belfast Telegraph

Family affair for Ivan and Andy Sproule

By Stuart McKinley

When Ivan Sproule received a text message from his brother telling him his new club Linfield had drawn his hometown team Dergview in the Irish Cup he thought it was a wind-up.

It wasn't. And now the former Northern Ireland international is preparing for a real family affair.

When he steps out tomorrow afternoon onto the Windsor Park pitch for the Blues' fifth round tie with the Belfast Telegraph Championship 1 side from Castlederg, Sproule will see plenty of familiar faces.

In the opposition will be another brother, his cousin and one other member of his wider family circle, as well as a number of friends.

Linfield confirmed Sproule's signing last month, just hours after the Irish Cup draw was made.

Since then very few conversations about football have taken place without the tie being mentioned to Sproule.

"I popped into the village yesterday to get something and you can't get away from this game. It's gripped the community," said Sproule.

"The first I heard about the draw was when another brother text me to say that I was going to be playing against Dergview in the Irish Cup.

"I thought he was pulling my leg, but football has a habit of throwing up these kind of things so I wasn't surprised at all."

He's right. In the last couple of seasons Jordan and Aaron Baker faced each other when Ballymena United met Derriaghy Cricket Club and last season there were some divided loyalties in the Holland household when Barry's Cliftonville met Mark's Kilmore Rec team.

The family interest in this game goes much deeper though.

"As well as my brother Andy being in the Dergview team we have a cousin, Philip Wallace, who plays right-back," explained Ivan, whose other brother Glen is a member of the Dergview reserve team.

"There is another Sproule, Gareth, and his brother is married to my sister."

Knowing so many of the opposition players – Dergview manager Richard Clarke is a personal friend of Sproule as well – will give him a little bit of advantage.

He is, however, warning that friendship will go out the window for 90 minutes tomorrow.

"I would know 90 per cent of the boys in the Dergview team and I know what they will bring to the game," said Sproule.

"I know Richard Clarke very well too and he is someone who everyone round Castlederg looked up to for what he did during a long career at Portadown.

"This match is a really big thing for them all and they will be doing all they can to cause an upset.

"I know the attitude that they will have. They will make it very tough for us and they'll be coming to Windsor Park for a big day out with nothing to lose.

"The pressure is on us. The expectation at Linfield is to win every game.

"Provided I get the nod this will be my home debut for Linfield and that's what I have to focus on, not who we are playing against.

"I have to be professional and try to win the game. When the 90 minutes is up those guys will be friends again, but the ones who know me know that I am competitive and I'm driven to win – even if that means beating my brother."

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Linfield manager David Jeffrey has been named as BT Sport manager of the month for December.

The Blues won all of their four games in the month to give Jeffrey his 32nd award just a few days after he marked 17 years in charge at Windsor Park.

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Glenavon have confirmed the signing of Linfield midfielder Brian McCaul on an 18-month contract. He was previously at Mourneview Park on loan during the 2011-12 season.

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Clarke relishes one more shot at glory on big stage

In the past he's danced around Windsor Park in celebration while holding the Irish Cup aloft.

When his life, let alone his football career, was put on hold 18 months ago after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, Richard Clarke couldn't have imagined that he would get another opportunity to play in a big game at the famous old stadium.

And when the former Portadown star left Shamrock Park to become player-manager of Dergview last summer, the chances of that happening looked even more remote.

Tomorrow, however, the former Northern Ireland under-21 international will enjoy another career highlight when he leads the Belfast Telegraph Championship 1 club into battle with Danske Bank Premiership leaders Linfield in the fifth round of this season's competition.

Now in remission after undergoing surgery followed by chemotherapy in the summer of 2012, 34-year-old Clarke is relishing one more big day.

"When I stepped back at Portadown and took over as reserve team manager I didn't think I would be back at Windsor Park, let alone on an occasion like this," said Clarke, who became player-manager of Dergview last summer.

"I've played in Irish Cup finals there and was lucky enough to win one against Larne in 2005, but if this is going to be my last hurrah then I want to enjoy it.

"It's a one-off occasion for us and playing against Linfield at Windsor Park is a reward for all the hard work that has gone on at the club over a number of years.

"When you get to this stage of the Irish Cup you could get another Championship team and your run could just peter out, but this is exactly the draw we wanted and I would say that every team outside the Premiership wanted too.

"I just don't want my players to freeze and take a tanking, because that's what could happen if Linfield play the way they are capable of."

Since the draw was made over three weeks ago Clarke's schedule has become busier than usual for a father of two who also works full-time and manages a football team.

"It's been a bit hectic and I've been sorting out numbers for supporters buses as well as everything else, but it's all good," said Clarke.

That's not the only problem he has ahead of facing the Blues – but again, it's a good one.

"I rested a few players last Saturday who were carrying knocks because I wanted to make sure they were fit to play against Linfield," said Clarke.

"Other boys came in and we beat Carrick, so now I'm left with a headache.

"We want to go there and have the lads do themselves justice on a big occasion and show that they can play a bit.

"We would have a one in 1,000 chance of beating Linfield – especially if they play the way they have been lately – but shocks can happen."

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