Dundela and Crumlin Star gearing up for Steel & Sons Cup cracker
If you can find a bookmaker willing to give odds on this Friday’s Steel & Sons Cup semi-final between Dundela and Crumlin Star, chances are, they’ll have had their work cut out in coming up with a favourite.
At first glance, such a statement may seem difficult to take seriously. After all, this game is pitting the runaway leaders from Northern Ireland’s second tier - who have yet to lose a league game in nine and who have an illustrious Steel Cup history, having won the competition nine times to date – against a so-called minnow from the Amateur League.
But Dundela boss Mark Snodden has far too much knowledge and experience of local football to take his Ardoyne-based opponents lightly. Unlike many before him, he knows exactly what he’s up against on Friday night (Seaview, 7.30pm).
Knowing what he does, and clearly well-versed on the Amateur League Premier Division outfit, he intends to have his team fully prepared for a tough game.
Snodden remarked: "They have won every league they have been in for the last six seasons, and worked their way to the top of amateur football, they have won the Border Cup the last two years, and also won the Clarence Cup last year too.
"You don’t do all of that without being a good team, and we will treat them with the respect they deserve.
"Out of the other three teams left (including Ballyclare Comrades and Immaculata), this is a good draw for us, because while there is an expectation on us to win, we know we will have to be at the top of our game to beat them."
Snodden doesn’t have to cast his mind too far back to remember what can happen in Steel & Sons Cup matches so commonly, and often lazily, referred to as ‘David v Goliath clashes.’
They may not have been allowed to keep the trophy due to a player registration mix-up, but Glentoran II showed in last season’s final just what the less-fancied side can be capable of when given the greatest platform, beating last season’s Belfast Telegraph Championship One winners Ards 3-0.
The Dundela manager said: "Because of the start to the season we have had, people had us down as favourites from the off. But look at what happened to Ards last season.
"Two of the Wee Glens players from last season, Carl McCombe and Daniel Burns, will feel they have a point to prove for us this season, after getting the trophy taken off them, while Michael Halliday played in the final for East Belfast in his younger playing days. I also have a few players who played in our last Steel Cup win in 2007.
"There is no shortage of experience, and the desire should be there too. If it’s not, we know that Crumlin Star are capable of not only beating us… they could potentially give us a tanking."
Crumlin’s progress in competitive football this year has been as impressive as in any other. The fact they have only been able to squeeze three league games into their heaving fixture schedule speaks volumes for how well they have done so far elsewhere.
A third successive Border Cup semi-final, against Albert Foundry, awaits next Wednesday, while they have also booked their place in the third and fourth rounds of the Intermediate and Irish Cups respectively.
Take all of this onboard, and the gap between the two teams isn’t perhaps as staggering as first impressions might otherwise have suggested.
Yet Crumlin’s secretary Kevin McVeigh is eager to maintain a sense of reality in this upcoming fixture, and while there is a sense of quiet confidence at the club, he doesn’t want this to spill over.
He stressed: "This is unknown territory for us. In other competitions, we find ourselves being the favourites a lot of the time, but we are definitely the underdogs for this one.
"Winning leagues, Border Cups and the Clarence have been special for us, but I’d have to say this is the peak so far. This will be a great occasion for us, and the small community we represent.
"Playing in that final on Christmas morning is what every player at this level dreams of – we just have to go out and enjoy the semi-final, play our game, and see where it takes us.
"It’s going to be a tough against Dundela, but it’s a match we can win."
Belfast Telegraph Digital