Belfast Telegraph

Positive thinking can play a part in Crumlin Star's Irish Cup adventure at Ballymena

By Martin Mawhinney

It’s fair to say that Crumlin Star manager Sean Brown has been rewarded for taking a positive attitude towards the Irish Cup.

The Ardoyne side have landed their second draw against a Premiership outfit in the fifth round of Northern Ireland’s most prestigious knockout competition in successive seasons.

And just as they weren’t fancied against Crusaders last season, few will be rushing to back them against Ballymena United this time around either.

But followers of the Braidmen would do well to remember this was the same team that pushed the Crues all the way only to lose out narrowly 2-1 in last season’s glamour tie. So narrowly, in fact, that Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter was moved to praise the Amateur League side for their valiant efforts.

Brown recalled: “He told us that we did ourselves, the Amateur League and the Irish Cup proud, and that we deserved a draw. That will always stick with me, because for that to come from someone like Stephen, who has been in the game for as long and has achieved as much as he has, it says we must be doing something right.

“I was quite relieved we didn’t get the draw because I thought they may come out angry and thump us in the replay.”

It’s very possible that last aside from the Crumlin boss was said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. He knows this group of players – most of whom helped the club land back-to-back Border Cups in 2011 and 2012 – are the real deal, and capable of giving any team a game on its day.

Their route to this year’s fifth round demonstrates as much, with a victories over Premier Division rivals Malachians and Immaculata along the way, as well as toppling Lisburn Distillery at the previous stage.

Such victories help Brown maintain a positive attitude about his side’s prospects, but in fairness, that is an outlook he would have in any case.

He said: “You always have to believe you can go out and win. Distillery had won four or five of their previous six games before we beat them, but we deserved to beat them. We just have to go out and do it again. Of course, we will need a lot of hard work and a bit of good luck, but we have to believe we can do it.

“This is a competition you will never hear me talking down. It is all about giving the junior teams a crack at one of the big boys. It’s about making my team better, and hopefully giving my players an opportunity to get themselves noticed and push on.

“Every person in this country needs to make the top level of football better. There is a lot of self-gain around at the minute, and that’s part of the problem, but my wee lad is involved in grassroots football, and there is a lot of good work being done at that level – it just needs to be replicated the whole way up.”

A fantastic turnout at recent training sessions has also given Brown plenty of reason for optimism against a Ballymena side whose league form has sea-sawed of late, having led the way in the early stages of this season’s Premiership.

It has been an injury-ravaged campaign for the Star up to this stage, but with 22 out of their squad of 24 available for selection, and having not played competitively since their mid-December Intermediate Cup exit to Linfield Swifts, expect them to be raring to go for this David v Goliath match-up.

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