Ex-Glentoran great Darren Lockhart hails goal hero Sam Branston after Irish Cup win
Sirocco Works manager Darren Lockhart believes his team’s desire to stage a long run in the Irish Cup has been characterised by super-sub Sam Branston.
The young striker ended up scoring the winner in Sirocco’s 2-1 third round win over Rathfern Rangers on Saturday with the final kick of the ball, sparking wild celebrations with his teammates both on and off the pitch.
And with such a rich heritage in the competition, having collected three Irish Cup winners medals with Glentoran, it is fair to say Lockhart was every bit as pleased as his players.
But it was the winning goalscorer’s reaction that delighted him most.
Lockhart smiled: “You only had to be in the changing room after the game to see what it meant to those boys for all our preparation to have paid off.
“Sam came on for Andy Hunter, and ended up getting the winner.
“I gave him a lift home, because he was working on Saturday night, and asked him how I felt. You could see his face light up - he was saying that he could only ever have dreamed of getting to play in the Irish Cup let alone scoring the winner.
“Just like the rest of us, he was over the moon.”
Lockhart has his charges playing with the type of purpose and style that made him one of the Irish League’s top footballers in his prime.
As well as their current rich form in the Irish Cup, he also has them well in the mix in Division 1B of the Amateur League, with only two defeats in nine games so far.
It appears that the club is in the process of an upward curve that shows no sign of abating, and there may even be the prospect of silverware for the currently fifth-placed side.
The Sirocco boss continued: “I have got the type of mentality instilled into the team now that will help us do well. We are going out with the intention of winning every game at the moment, no matter what competition it’s in – nothing is being taken lightly.
“It also helps that we have 52 players across two teams. It has taken a while to get a settled side, but at the same time, I’ve been able to try different players for different competitions.”
Speaking to Lockhart, it’s clear just how enthusiastic he is about his current project. Yet it is also apparent that one aspect of the whole experience is needling him, somewhere in the background.
This week, the celebrated former Oval man hits the milestone of his 40th birthday, but he admits it isn’t something he is counting down the days to.
“It isn’t something I have particularly embraced,” he admitted. “I tell the older players in the team to enjoy playing for as long as they can, because nothing replaces it.
“I said I would keep playing until my legs gave up, and that’s what happened. But it I still get the butterflies on a Saturday when we’re getting ready for a match.
“That’s why it would be great to make it to the fifth round, and draw one of the big Irish League clubs. It would be a special experience for the boys.”
Round four sees the Belfast Telegraph Championship clubs enter the fray, so Sirocco will no doubt have their fingers crossed for an opponent closer to their level.
Fellow Amateur League sides Ardglass, Kilmore Rec and Derriaghy CC will join them in Monday’s draw for the next stage after respective 5-3, 4-2 and 3-0 wins over Carniny Amateurs, Immaculata and 18th Newtownabbey.
Newry City AFC continue to bring the good times back to the Showgrounds after beating Downpatrick 4-3, while Crumlin Star have progressed, with a 2-1 away victory over Newbuildings United.
Click on our results section for the full rundown of Irish Cup scores from the weekend.
Belfast Telegraph Digital