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Albert Foundry are steeled to serve up festive shock

BY Martin Mawhinney

There's no question we have a clear bookies' favourite in this year's Toals Bookmakers Steel amd Sons Cup final - and Albert Foundry manager Colin McIlwaine is happy for his side to play the outsiders' role against last year's beaten finalists Harland & Wolff Welders.

The Paisley Park boss accepts the 9/4 odds offered for his Amateur League Premier Division underdogs against their 1/3 opponents is probably about right.

But having seen them defeat fellow Championship One sides PSNI in the quarter-final and Larne in the semi-final, there is little reason to feel anything other than confidence approaching this intriguing contest.

He said: "It's going to be a bit of a David v Goliath game, and we are obviously the David. I don't think it's patronising for anyone to point that out to me, or to ask if we are going to enjoy our day.

"This is a massive thing for the entire club. It has been 66 years since we have made it to a Steel & Sons Cup final, and there are people working even harder than myself behind the scenes who deserve every minute of this, so I want everybody to enjoy it."

Indeed, it was at the last eight stage that McIlwaine says he began to dream of reaching the Steel & Sons Cup final, even though it was against all odds.

He continued: "It's the same as most competitions.

"You set out with the league as your bread and butter, and see how far you can get in the cups. Once you get to the quarter-final, though, you know that if you win, you are only one game away from the final.

"We know that if the Welders are on top of their game, we will be right up against it.

"But if they aren't, and we are, then it will be them up against it. It's Christmas morning - anything can happen."

The nature of last season's 4-1 final defeat to Carrick Rangers means that Welders manager Gary Smyth won't have much of a team talk to give this year. Most of his players will recall the one-sided thrashing that inspired them to follow last season's final with another seven straight victories, and will hope to use that in a similar fashion as then.

Smyth said: "I was more disappointed for the players than for me - I've been to plenty of finals - but they didn't owe me anything, they were winning a lot of games before the final and after it.

"I just asked them, 'do you ever want to feel this way again?' There are people who only go to that one match every year, just like when I was playing for the Glens, there were some people whose only game was the Big Two derby on Boxing Day."

Sitting second in the league, just a point behind Ards, the Welders have shown themselves likely to be a force at the business end of the season once more.

And with Michael McLellan scoring for fun - with 25 goals in 14 games including a hat-trick in Saturday's Intermediate Cup second round tie against Downshire YM - and Davy Rainey also in fine form with 14 goals to his name this term, those expectations will be high again.

But can the favourite tag be too heavy for those wearing it?

"That's always the question," said Smyth. "You can prepare for a match as much as you want, but if you're scared to lose - or even scared to win that all goes out the window.

"I know what can happen… but I am confident that if everybody turns up, we'll be a match for anybody."

Albert Foundry: Stephen Cairnduff, Jonathan Sloan, Aaron Harris, Barry Moore, Bill Maxwell, Connor Corry, Darren McComb, Darryl McAlinden, Paul Acheson, Graham Beck, Paul Young, Ian West, John Burns, Kirk Madden, Marcus Beattie, Mark Neil, Michael McAlinden, Stuart Martin, Paul McCord, Jamie Mitchell, William McComb

H&W Welders : Michael Dougherty, Dan McMurray, William Armstrong, Gary Spence, Scott McMillan, Craig Harris, Paul Dickson, Ryan Deans, Neil Dougan, Scott Davidson, Sammy Devine, Jonathan Bowers, Josh Cahoon, Chris Middleton, Michael McLellan, David Rainey, Jay Shields, Tony Galbraith

Steel and Sons Cup Final: Seaview (Xmas Day 10.45am)

Alb Foundry

HW Welders

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