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Appetiser is gone, now for the main dish

By Stuart McKinley

Published 08/04/2008

The sparing; the phoney war is over. Now let the real battle commence.

Having had their appetite whetted, the fans and players of Glentoran and Linfield can now look forward to tucking into the main course on Saturday. They've bigger fish to fry you see, the one that really matters - the Irish Premier League and what Glens manager Alan McDonald himself has branded a 'winner takes all' encounter at Windsor.

Most of the players who will start when Belfast's Big Two go head-to-head on Saturday watched this Setanta Sports Cup clash from the stands.

Linfield's 3-1 win last night, thanks to a Paul McAreavey brace and Mark Dickson's second goal in three days after Darren Boyce opened the scoring for the Glens won't matter a jot by then.

Alan McDonald and David Jeffrey will tell you that the all-Ireland competition is important to them and their clubs. They aren't the kind of men you argue with, but did this game get in the way before such an important game at the weekend? Of course it did.

They would much rather have had their squads in for a training session last night in preparation for what is one of the biggest meetings of the Belfast rivals since another Championship decider three years ago.

There was no need to look any further that the team-sheet for evidence of what really matters to the managers.

Fair enough, Linfield did include full-internationals Alan Mannus, Michael Gault and Peter Thompson as well as under-21 striker Thomas Stewart in their line-up, but they were the only four who started against Newry City in the league last Saturday.

Glentoran made even more changes. Only their goalscoring hero from Seaview on Saturday, Dead Fitzgerald, stayed in the team as McDonald made a massive 10 alterations to his team.

Come Saturday the big guns will be wheel out again. William Murphy, Noel Bailie, Glenn Ferguson, Paul Leeman, Colin Nixon and Gary Hamilton. Talking of three years ago, the teams met in the Setanta Cup at Windsor Park a few days before that famous - and infamous - April 23 game known in east-Belfast as 'Morgan Day' and the scenario was almost identical.

Jeffrey and then Glentoran boss Roy Coyle both fielded less than full strength sides so as not to give anything away ahead of the second part of the double header even though it was their first meeting in the Setanta Cup. The Blues won that one before the Glens went on to get revenge a few days later and ultimately won the league.

Whether history repeats itself remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure, it'll be much more of an intense battle than this one.

Let's get it started!

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