Crumlin Star and Downpatrick set to go head-to-head in Border Cup semi-final
If anyone knows the ability of the underdog to overturn the odds, it is Crumlin Star manager Sean Brown.
As a player and latterly a manager, he has helped his side do exactly that against some of the longest established names in the Northern Amateur League as they plotted a steady upwards trail of successive promotions all the way up to the Premier Division, two seasons ago.
So it is perhaps an unusual sensation the Crumlin boss experiences as he looks ahead to his team’s forthcoming Border Cup semi-final with Division 1A leaders Downpatrick at Seaview on Wednesday (November 26, 7.30pm).
There’s no getting away from the fact the Premier Division outfit are the favourites, on both current standing and recent pedigree. But Brown is the last person who will ever be found underestimating the opposition.
“I saw Downpatrick two years ago, and I knew then that there was plenty of potential in them,” he told The Park. “We beat them twice that season, but they played similar football to us.
“I just thought they needed an experienced head or two in there, and with your Mark Hollands and your Telfords in there, they have that now. I know they are a force to be reckoned with now.
“The fact that they are in 1A doesn’t even come into it. The two years we won the Border Cup, we were in 1B and 1A, so that tells you everything.”
The Border Cup has certainly been a competition in which Downpatrick have excelled in recent years. This is the fourth time in as many years they have reached this stage, and while their main target will always be the league, Brown is desperate for his side to reach the final again.
Indeed, he winces at the very thought of their defeat to Albert Foundry on penalties in last year’s semi-final.
“That wasn’t a happy day,” he recalled. “Ask any of my players and they’ll tell you, I don’t harp on about the trophies we have won… it’s more about the trophies we haven’t.
“That’s where you get your hunger from. You have got to right your wrongs.
“The final is on December 27, and I know there were probably a few of our boys secretly quite happy to have their Christmas back last year, but I’ll be happy to put it on hold again if we make it to the final this year.”
And as much as Crumlin have prioritised a title challenge this season, it could be argued that Downpatrick have just as much, if not more cause to have such a target in their own sights.
It is that desire which has driven the Rosconnor side to seven wins out of eight Division 1A games this season, as they seek a return to the top flight for the first time in three years.
There are two sides of the coin when arguing the effect of a cup run like Downpatrick’s when measuring it against a title tilt. Many would argue it helps to build morale and momentum, while others might see it as a distraction.
It could also be said that defeat might have a negative impact on his team within the league campaign. But the club’s assistant manager Joe McMahon is having none of it.
“I remember us getting put out of the semi-final last year – we still had the moustaches from Movember,” he smiled. “We went on and beat Rosario 5-0 the next weekend.
“If we lose, we won’t feel sorry for ourselves. Nobody should be feeling sorry for themselves at this point for the season.
“We know what we are up against in this competition, with the quality of the teams left in it. And you might say that gives us less pressure, but the pressure we have as a squad is the pressure we put on ourselves to go out there and play well.”
In reference to Brown’s complimentary remarks about the similarities between his own side’s positive brand of football and that of Downpatrick, McMahon added: “We can’t send out a team that goes out on a Saturday trying to get lucky goals and scrape 1-0 wins.
“It might be cavalier, but we are fully focussed on picking a team that goes out to try and score goals.”
And with an eye-watering 55 goals ‘for’ in total from a combined total of 16 league matches involving these two teams this season, the one sure-fire guarantee for anyone going to this game must surely be that they won’t be served up a boring goalless draw.
Belfast Telegraph Digital