“I’ve always promised my mum I would get her an Irish Cup medal, so fingers crossed, hopefully this is it.”
Cliftonville defender David McAlinden has his own personal goals ahead of the Irish Cup final against Crusaders tomorrow but he will have to inflict pain on an old school buddy to fulfil his dream.
McAlinden and Crusaders right-back Gareth McKeown both featured in a Boys’ Model team that was one of the finest sides in the history of schools’ football in Northern Ireland.
Over a four-year period the team pocketed leagues and cups for fun and suffered only one defeat in 72 matches.
McAlinden was a bustling centre-forward at first before forging a solid centre-back partnership with McKeown.
Gareth made the Northern Ireland Under-16 schools’ team while David played at Under-18 level.
The formidable side was coached by Dennis Shields who has just guided the Linfield Swifts team to the Reserve League title.
“For the first four years we could not be beaten,” said McAlinden.
“It was a very good side with plenty of potential but no-one really went on to greatness apart from myself and Gareth! Some boys are playing for teams like Albert Foundry while Stuart Young went to Ross County as a professional, but I think he came home and didn’t really play on after that.
“Myself and Gareth were mates in the same class before he went off to Derby. We were quite friendly and it’s good to catch up when we meet. We certainly know each other quite well.
“Gareth has done very well. He came back home and went to Ards and Portadown before impressing at Crusaders. He’s been very influential there, one of the players along with Mark Dickson, Martin Donnelly and Aaron Black who has really brought them along.
“Win, lose or draw, whatever goes on on the pitch stays on the pitch — that has always been my way. I’ll hate Gareth for 90 minutes and then shake hands with him afterwards.”
McKeown and McAlinden have more in common than their successful schooldays — both like to score against their old clubs!
“We both have that knack,” admitted McAlinden. “Gareth blasted in a few great goals against us and I have netted a few times against Crusaders.
“Gareth’s goal against us at Solitude this season was a cracker and he also has the long throw-in in his locker.
“He’s one of the best strikers of a ball in the league.”
If McAlinden plays tomorrow it will be his 100th game for the Reds.
“It would just be nice to be involved,” he said.
“A lot of boys are fighting for places and some of us will be disappointed. The most important thing is that Cliftonville go on and win the trophy — that’s the overall objective.
“People will miss out but that’s the way football goes. Then you have to make sure you are in the squad next year.
“Fans may not be used to a final without one of the Big Two but I think it’s great and the fact that we beat Linfield and Glentoran en route to the final means nothing to me. What matters now is how we perform in the final and whether we win the trophy.
“Setanta Sports Cup games and European games are big but this is the biggest in my view.
“I promised my mum an Irish Cup medal but she doesn’t like attending the games because of the aggression. My father and fiancee Lisa will hopefully be supporting me.”
Cup glory would represent a fairytale finish to a nightmare season for the big centre-back.
“It’s been six months of absolute hell for me on the injury front,” he added.
“I’ve had to watch the boys without being able to help them. But that horror season could be topped off with an Irish Cup winners’ medal and that would certainly soften the blow a little bit.”
There is another former Boys’ Model pupil who will be hoping to make a name for himself tomorrow, Crusaders striker Jordan Owens.
But McAlinden and McKeown are still hoping to be perfect role models.