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Ballyclare's Hughes reckons it could be year of the underdog

By Keith Bailie

Ballyclare Comrades manager Stephen Hughes hopes that 2017 is the year a club from outside the Premiership finally reaches the Irish Cup final.

While FAI Cup, the FA Cup and Scottish Cup finals have all featured sides from the lower divisions in recent years, the last time a club from outside the Northern Irish top flight reached the final of the Irish Cup was 41 years ago, when B Division side Carrick Rangers defeated Linfield in the 1976 final.

However, this year's fifth round draw has thrown-up four all-Premiership ties, while Portadown and Ballinamallard United both have tough away games against Larne and Warrenpoint Town, respectively.

Ballyclare will play fellow Championship side Institute at Dixon Park today, as both clubs look to book a spot in the last 16.

Manager Hughes said: "It would be a massive task for a Championship club to reach the final, but I'm not sure I have ever seen a draw like this one.

"At least four Premiership teams will be knocked out. There's an opportunity there for a smaller club to go on and maybe reach a semi-final."

In the other all-Championship clash, Lurgan Celtic travel to face Harland & Wolff Welders. Last year, Colin Malone's men knocked out Portadown before losing to Linfield at Windsor Park in the semi-finals.

The tie between Championship club PSNI and Premier Intermediate League side Lisburn Distillery has shone a light on the Irish Cup's unusual rules. Intermediate clubs can not host senior clubs in the fifth round. That means, even though Distillery's New Grosvenor ground has played host to many ties, this match had to be played at the PSNI's Newforge home.

Elsewhere, Championship side Annagh United host Intermediate League team Tobermore United at Tandragee Road.

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