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Crusaders v Livingston: Crues stars could get chance to Liv the pro dream

By Graham Luney

Published 07/10/2016

On the up: Crusaders winger Gavin Whyte will be looking to impress against Livingston tonight
On the up: Crusaders winger Gavin Whyte will be looking to impress against Livingston tonight

Livingston boss David Hopkin believes the new look IRN-BRU Cup is a golden opportunity for the Irish League's top young prospects to showcase their talent.

The Scottish League One side take on Crusaders at Seaview on Friday night in the fourth round of the tournament.

Linfield, meanwhile, will travel to Dumfries for a clash against Scottish Championship pacesetters Queen of the South on Sunday (1pm), with the Scottish side in fine form at the start of the season.

It is the first time the competition, which used to be called the Challenge Cup, has included clubs from the Irish Premiership and Welsh Premier League, giving Danske Bank Premiership young guns the chance to win more admirers and perhaps seal a professional contract in England or Scotland.

"The Irish League is a market we are definitely interested in and, as one of the smallest full-time clubs in Scotland, we are always committed to identifying good young players and helping them progress," said Hopkin, a former Chelsea, Leeds United and Crystal Palace midfielder.

"This tournament is a good shop window for those boys and I know from my time as a player with Leeds and Crystal Palace that there were good players coming across the water. It's an exciting time for Northern Ireland football following their success at the Euro 2016 finals and this is a stage allowing the boys to showcase their talent."

Hopkin, who won seven Scotland caps in the late 1990s, is expecting a tough encounter at Seaview, even though his West Lothian team, who are currently second in League One, are a full-time outfit and favourites to progress to the quarter-finals next month.

"All the boys are looking forward to it but we know it will be a very tough game against a fit, strong and organised Crusaders team," he added. "The Irish League may be largely part-time, but players keep themselves in good condition and we have watched footage of Crusaders, they are very strong as they showed at the weekend, coming from 3-0 down to win a match.

"We play against part-time sides and they are difficult opponents. Although we are a professional set-up the average age of our squad would be 21, so our boys are playing against more experienced players. I would have liked a bit more preparation time but we have a few artificial surfaces in League One so the surface shouldn't be a problem.

"We would have liked to have brought more fans over too but as it is televised on the Premier Sports Channel, and with the game being on a Friday night, over 200 of our fans will probably watch the game at the club.

"I think this competition is a great concept but it needs to be financially viable for clubs and scheduled correctly. With teams like Hibernian, Falkirk and Dundee United in the competition there's an incentive to progress."

A club travelling to another country will receive a travel allowance of £4,000, while fourth round losers are guaranteed £5,750. If either Linfield or Crusaders progress to the last eight the prizemoney will increase to at least £8,250.

There will be no television payments while gate money is shared equally following the standard 10 per cent deduction from the home club for matchday costs.

If a match is drawn there will be 30 minutes of added time and penalty kicks if necessary.

• Kevin McHugh has had surgery to try to save his finger after his wedding ring got caught in a fence.

The Finn Harps captain said he was chasing after a football during a coaching session in Donegal when the accident occurred. He tweeted a graphic photo of the injury and wrote: "Think that's my season over."

Belfast Telegraph

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