Welders' Smyth and Carrick's Haveron aim to bring Steel Cup home to their loved ones
Aside from plotting a way to get their hands on the Toals Steel & Sons Cup in this year’s Christmas morning final at Seaview (kick-off 10.45am), Harland & Wolff Welders manager Gary Smyth and Carrick Rangers manager Gary Haveron have the task of prising their families away from the comfort of their home.
Thousands of local football fans make it an annual tradition to be part of the unique showpiece game at the home of Crusaders every December 25, regardless of the teams involved, but not everyone is always so willing to give up their Christmas morning.
In Smyth’s case, he has made sure to alert all affected parties nice and early in a bid ensure things go smoothly off the pitch as well as on it.
“We have moved Christmas dinner to my mother-in-law’s – she lives 3 or 400 yards away from the Welders – so whatever happens, we will make an occasion of it.
“It’s a big thing, and without being disrespectful to any of the teams we played, we knew there was a good chance we could make the final when we reached the quarter-final stage, so it was a case of getting the excuses in early!
“My wife has always been supportive of me and comes to watch the big matches, my 15-year-old daughter Tabitha will hmm and ha about going, but I’ll have no problem getting my son Casey (9) to go. He is football mad.”
Carrick gaffer Haveron isn’t anticipating such a straightforward effort in talking his own 4-year-old son away from his Christmas presents.
He said: “My wee boy Alfie won’t want to leave his toys, which is totally understandable. It is a family day, but the Steel & Sons Cup final is also a family occasion for all the generations who go to it every year.
“Alfie will be a mascot, and will come out with us onto the pitch, and a lot of our players with kids will be doing the same with theirs.
“I would love nothing more than to be able to hand my son that trophy and to have a winners’ medal to hand him at the end of it. That is the extra motivation.”
For two former players who made their respective names carving out successful careers in the Irish League, the Steel & Sons Cup final is a relatively novel experience.
Haveron has been limited to appearances in earlier rounds in recent years, with Larne Tech OB, and taking a group of children to the Larne v Bangor final of 2011 through his work as a sports development officer.
Smyth can recall watching Dundela beating Glentoran II in the 1988 final, the first year he had signed at the Oval, and then helping the Wee Glens overturn derby opponents East Belfast 4-1 in the following season’s finale, before embarking on a medal-laden career.
Both men would eventually end up at Ballymena United, and Haveron was struck by the “leadership qualities” of Smyth as he came to the end of his playing career, while the Welders manager admits he has been “impressed” by his opposite number’s promising start in management.
Both clubs already look likely to have a major say in this season’s Belfast Telegraph Championship One title race, and both can go within a point of leaders Bangor if they win their games in hand.
But Haveron and Smyth will both put that consideration to one side for a high-profile game that sees Carrick without their suspended leading goal-scorer Miguel Chines and the Welders finally given clearance to play influencial marksman David Rainey, following previous doubts over his eligibility, due to his status as an unused substitute in last season’s Irish Cup.
“It’s a massive match for us, and it would certainly give everyone a boost if we win,” said Smyth. “If we do, we will keep our feet on the ground, but if we don’t, we will pick ourselves up and push on.”
Haveron added: “It has been a stop / start season for us, and getting momentum has been difficult for us as our games have been getting called off for one reason or another, but we have managed to progress in this cup. The league has always been our priority, but we want to win this, badly.”
May the best team win – and may the losing team find comfort from the support of their understanding families!
Belfast Telegraph Digital