Belfast Telegraph

Ballyclare turn their attentions to huge cup 'glamour tie'

By Martin Mawhinney

Ballyclare Comrades manager Eddie Hill hasn’t exactly been counting down the days until his side’s Irish Cup quarter-final with Crusaders this Saturday. In fact, it has hardly crossed his mind at all.

There has been something of a buzz at Dixon Park ever since they booked the ‘glamour tie’ after upsetting the odds against neighbours Carrick Rangers in the last 16, but Hill has wisely refused to stay out of any pre-match hype.

It is only now that they have the weekend’s game with Harland & Wolff Welders behind them that Hill can focus on what is undeniably one of the standout games of their season.

Yet even still, it is hard to escape the sense that the Ballyclare boss wants to play the occasion down as much as possible.

He said: “Honestly, I’ll prepare my boys in the same way that I do for any game. Of course, they have all been talking about it in training, but any time I’ve heard them doing that, I have just nipped it in the bud.

“Since I took the job, I have been making sure the players concentrate on one game at a time, and it has worked well for us. All of last week, my priority was the Welders game… now, it’s Crusaders.”

In the short couple of years Hill has been in charge, the improvements at Ballyclare have been steady and impressive, and this high-profile cup clash will be yet another opportunity for the club to demonstrate how far they have progressed.

He continued: “Crusaders are one of the best teams in the country, and it will be a massive task for us. All we can do is give it our best shot.

“We have played Linfield and Glentoran already, and I would put the Crues in the same category as those teams. 

“We were in Championship Two when Linfield beat us seven about two years ago – that was a real eye-opener – but when we played the Glens at the start of the year, they beat us 3-1. 

“On top of that, we have made it to the last 16 of the Steel & Sons Cup for the last two seasons, and we have made it to the quarter-finals of the Irish Cup and Intermediate Cup this season, so we are definitely making strides.”

He might not say it, but Hill realises what a huge statement it would be to topple one of the leading teams in local football at the moment.

Some might say that Ballyclare are facing Crusaders at a good time, only a fortnight after they have shown their potential vulnerability against local rivals, Cliftonville, who romped to a 4-0 triumph in their north Belfast derby. Others will argue that it is the worst possible moment to face a ‘wounded bear’, after a result that has caused some commentators to speculate that the Crues are now no longer in the Danske Bank Premiership title frame.

Yet, unsurprisingly, Hill has no interest in getting drawn into such a debate.   

“Is there a good time to play Crusaders?” he asked. “It doesn’t matter when you play them, they are a quality side.

“That was a good result for Cliftonville, and I am sure they were buzzing from it, but it will make the Crues all the more hungry to come out and impress their supporters. I’d say they are up for every game, but hopefully we aren’t on the receiving end of anything they’re still feeling about that defeat.”

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