Not many people will fancy Crumlin Star to spring a surprise against Crusaders in the Irish Cup fifth round this season, and Star boss Sean Brown agrees it is unlikely.
However, that won’t stop the Amateur League cup specialists from having a go at registering one of the biggest shocks of recent times.
Followers of lower level football won’t have too far to delve into the archives to recall the latest major headline-grabbing upset the Irish Cup threw up. Indeed, many Glentoran fans will still be reeling at the memory of their 1-0 fifth round defeat at the hands of Newington YC two years ago.
And while Brown will no doubt use that famous win by their north Belfast neighbours as a motivating factor for his players, he is just simply happy to be a part of a fixture that most of his rivals could only dream of.
He said: “Listen, we know we would need to play at our very best, and all the Crusaders players would have to have a massive off-day to even have a chance, but I grew up like a lot of people, watching the FA Cup and seeing the likes of Wimbledon go all the way. It can be done… Newington showed that.
“But I have been with Crumlin Star for 20 years now, and for us even to be involved in a game like this is unbelievable. I remember a time when me and Eamonn Hawkins were running around knocking on farmers’ doors looking for a bit of land to play on in Mallusk.”
There was a time, too, when the club were struggling to get a first team together. Back then, a young Sean Brown was part of a dedicated group of players who defied the odds to keep Crumlin Star together.
The commitment of those players was then rewarded as the Star went on to win Division 2C, 2B, 2A, 1C, IB and 1A titles. As well as picking up back-to-back Border Cups in the two seasons prior to this one, winning last year’s Clarence Cup, and having lifted three Cochrane Corry Cups along the way, the club have also underlined their knockout credentials in their first Premier Division campaign by having reached this season’s Steel & Sons Cup semi-finals.
Yet, win, lose or draw, Brown is under no illusion about where this occasion will rank in the club’s journey so far.
“I know we have won a few cups and been involved in some very big games, but this is the biggest game in our history,” stated the Crumlin Star boss.
“It’s a massive day for the whole club, and we are bringing our Under-11s along to be mascots for the game. We intend to make the most of the occasion.”
Crumlin Star captain Paul Berne admitted he has been counting down the days to the big game ever since the draw was made last month.
The skipper said: “We've been trying to get into the fifth round for four years now, so we're just delighted to make it to this stage. Last year we got to the fourth round before being knocked out by Bangor, so this year we felt we had to go one better.
“We certainly deserve to make it to the fifth round. So far we've knocked out Dollingstown, Newbuildings and Newry City, all of whom are top of their league, so we've worked hard to get here.
“The reality is, Crusaders are a whole different ball game for us, as they've Northern Ireland internationals and top Irish League players in their team. They went on a 23-game unbeaten run, which tells you everything you need to know.
“They're a top team and nobody expects us to win, but Newington showed a couple of years ago that it is possible for an Amateur League side to beat a Premiership team. Unfortunately for us, I think this Crusaders team is much better than that Glentoran side.”
*The thoughts of all at Crumlin Star and the wider local football circle are with the family of Gary Whelan – a former long-serving player of the club, who has been battling for his life at the Royal Victoria Hospital since late last week.