Belfast Telegraph

Tennent's Irish Cup quarter-final: It's end of the line for Portadown boss Ronnie McFall insists Lurgan Celtic's Malone

By Graham Luney

Lurgan Celtic boss Colin Malone is confident his minnows can kill off Ronnie McFall's Irish Cup love affair once and for all.

McFall is expected to step down as Portadown supremo at the end of the season and this is his last shot at landing the top knockout prize in the domestic game.

Europe's longest serving boss guided the Shamrock Park side to their first ever Irish Cup victory in 1991 and also got his hands on the prize again in 1999 and 2005.

McFall also steered Glentoran to Irish Cup success in 1983 but, inevitably, there have many lows as well during his illustrious career with Cup final defeats to Glentoran in 1990 as well as Linfield in 2002 and 2010 - and then the Glens again at The Oval last year.

Appointed Ports boss in December, 1986, McFall (below) has seen it all in the Irish Cup - even a final that wasn't played in 1999 when Cliftonville were punished for using ineligible player Simon Gribben in a semi-final replay win over Linfield.

Last season's Cup final loss to Glentoran, which also robbed them of European qualification, was a bitter pill for McFall to swallow and Portadown's performances this season indicate that they failed to sufficiently recharge their batteries in the summer.

Now languishing in seventh spot in the Danske Bank Premiership, the pressure is on the Ports to blast away Championship One side Lurgan Celtic at Shamrock Park tomorrow. As fate would have it, McFall's last Irish Cup cocktail could contain a mid-Ulster flavour. Among those plotting his downfall are former Glenavon boss Colin Malone, who has Portadown old boys Josh Barton, Aaron Haire and Shea Conaty in his team.

"All the pressure is on Portadown and what encourages me is we have a fantastic team spirit in our dressing room - one of the best I have experienced," said Malone.

"I'm not sure we have been able to say that about Portadown this season with boys indicating they are leaving. That will not keep the morale high. The spirit is fantastic in our camp and that fills me with belief. We'll be hungry to win the game and yes it could be Ronnie's final Irish Cup game.

"Ronnie has not changed - he wants to win every match and I hope he stays in football after this season. I believe he has a lot more to give. I've a lot of time for him and it's sad that he has received a lot of criticism.

"I can remember Portadown before Ronnie McFall came and it was not in a good place, it was a club in turmoil. Unfortunately the players have not been performing for him this season, but people should not have short memories. Ronnie's longevity in the game is a fantastic achievement, but we will be highly motivated to reach a semi-final."

It's not quite the master facing the apprentice with Malone, now 57, having gained managerial experience with Glenavon, Loughgall, Armagh City and Banbridge Town.

"We had to play two semi-finals in one week at Glenavon with Linfield our opponents and while we won the first one, 2-1 in the League Cup, we lost the Irish Cup one by the same scoreline," added Malone.

"Linfield could freshen up their squad better and at the time it was a big disappointment for me because we had a fantastic side that finished runner-up in the league behind the Blues.

"Hopefully I can reach another semi-final with Lurgan Celtic. My brothers were telling me it is 40 years on since Carrick beat Linfield in the 1976 final so I will take some inspiration and heart from that.

"They possess a lot of quality, but it's a one-off Cup game and I'm hoping the fighting spirit and cammaraderie we have will swing it our way."

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