Martin Donnelly is hoping to keep up his 100% record when it comes to north Belfast derbies in Cup finals!
Happy memories: Martin Donnelly (left), along with Mark Dickson and Gary Smyth, helped Crusaders win the 2009 Irish CupMartin Donnelly is hoping to keep up his 100% record when it comes to north Belfast derbies in Cup finals!
Donnelly was part of the Crusaders side that cruised to Irish Cup glory in 2009 — conquering Cliftonville in the decider.
But now the winger has left the Red and Black corner and he’s fighting for the Solitude cause.
Inevitably, the banter is rather different in the run-up to Saturday’s IRN-BRU Cup showdown at Windsor Park.
Back in 2009 Donnelly’s pals teased him about having a foot in the enemy’s camp but those same supporters are now firmly behind their man, giving him all the encouragement he needs to silence the noisy neighbours.
And Crusaders have been making a lot of noise this week — the Hatchetmen have a spring in their step after dumping Linfield out of the Irish Cup on Tuesday night.
However, the Reds have a little to shout about too after opening up a nine points gap at the top of the table. Donnelly knows all about the importance of Saturday’s fixture — he plans to be a winner again, just in different colours.
“The build-up to this final is now very strange for me because everyone wants me to do well this time,” said Donnelly whose sensational form for Crusaders helped him earn a Northern Ireland cap against Italy shortly after the 2009 final.
“Everyone is behind me now. They couldn’t do that when I played for Crusaders — they couldn’t wish me well but now the banter is very different. It’s good to have that support for a change!
“I’ve been fortunate to be in a final every season and I’ve managed to win them. I didn’t play in the Irish Cup final against Linfield when I was coming to the end of my time at Crusaders but I’ve had County Antrim Shield success with Cliftonville and this is another huge game.”
Donnelly views his own side and Crusaders as “the two best teams in the country.”
He adds: “It could be very tight and I just hope I get an opportunity to make a difference.
“At Seaview they battered us but at Solitude we got the result and it was an important one in the context of the title race.
“Hopefully we can get the ball down and knock it about because sometimes these games can be a bit blood and thunder.”
Donnelly will be hoping to provide the ammunition for lethal marksmen Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley to hit the target.
“We saw again in the Portadown game how Liam (Boyce) steps up and delivers to take the pressure off the team,” added Donnelly.
“He’s just a class act, a matchwinner and along with Rory Donnelly, the best player I’ve played with. Joe was the difference on Boxing Day. If they are on form it could be our night.”
His pals will second that!