Eight years ago, Gary Haveron was living his Irish Cup dream with Coleraine. Tomorrow, he is determined to crush the Bannsiders’ Irish Cup dream.
The former Ballymena United favourite is expecting a few disapproving comments from the Coleraine faithful at the Showgrounds today but he will never forget the time when he almost grasped glory in blue and white colours.
Now foiling strikers as a committed centre-back at Amateur League 1A outfit Larne Tech Old Boys, Haveron’s footballing ambitions have dropped a little.
The 31-year-old, a sports development officer based at the impressive Cliff training facility in Larne, made the move back to his home town from the Braid for family reasons as his 19-month old son Alfie remains the centre of attention.
The coaching work, which is backed by funding from Sport NI, keeps Haveron busy and he loves the job, but his boots have not been hung up just yet.
And who knows there could be one more Irish Cup fairytale story to be written as the Old Boys travel to face the Irn-Bru Cup finalists in the fifth round of the Irish Cup. Haveron has every reason to wake up in a cold sweat cursing an Irish Cup nightmare, after experiencing defeat to Glentoran in the 2004 final.
It was a vintage side, managed by Marty Quinn, that included the likes of Gerry Flynn, Jody Tolan, Rory Hamill, Davy O’Hare, Gareth McAuley, Paul Gaston, Tony Gorman, Stephen Beatty and Barry Johnston, though Pat McAllister was suspended for the decider.
The Bannsiders had lifted the trophy the year before but a Michael Halliday goal broke their hearts the following May. Haveron, who was in the Coleraine engine room with Tony Gorman, still looks back on the occasion with pride.
“I loved the Irish Cup and we were on a great run that year but just fell at the last hurdle,” said Haveron. “But it was still an exciting time for everyone and I was proud of scoring the winner in the semi-final against Limavady United at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
“We had a great Coleraine side and it was a real who’s who of Irish League football, real legends. Although we lost the game and it’s never nice losing a cup final, I really enjoyed the experience and we all felt a genuine excitement and buzz. The Irish Cup is more than a distraction to the league games. It special and gives you special memories.”
Could another special memory be manufactured at the Showgrounds tomorrow?
Haveron, whose career has also been disrupted by two serious leg injuries, is happy to dream again.
“We will go there and be competitive,” he added. “The biggest thing is not to freeze on the day but we have experienced players including Bertie Fulton and Damien McLaughlin and players who maybe didn’t get the chance in the Irish League that they deserved.”
Stephen Adair, joint manager of Larne Tech Old Boys with Stuart Pike, says the minnows will not be adopting a cautious approach.
“Gary is one of our experienced players and together with Andy Bell at the back we are very strong, but of course Curtis Allen has been banging in the goals for Coleraine,” said Adair.
“But I feel we have to have a go, there is no point in showing them too much respect. We want to show what we are capable of.”
Paul Hardy, director of football at the Amateur League 1A outfit, was the hero for Ballymena United in 1989 when he scored the only goal to overcome Larne in the Oval final. Now it’s over to the players of Larne Tech Old Boys to earn heroic status tomorrow.
Coleraine will meet with the PSNI and health and safety officials this afternoon in an attempt to secure more tickets for the Irn-Bru Cup final against Crusaders. The Bannsiders, who have sold out their allocation, want temporary seating installed at the Ballymena Showgrounds.