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Feeney out to roll back years and topple Crues

By Stuart McKinley

Published 09/01/2016

Gearing up: Lee Feeney leads his Rathfriland team-mates as they prepare to face Crusaders in the Irish Cup
Gearing up: Lee Feeney leads his Rathfriland team-mates as they prepare to face Crusaders in the Irish Cup

Once dubbed the 'Golden Child' of Irish League football, the Irish Cup has propelled Lee Feeney back into the spotlight.

He may be playing for the lowest-ranked team left in this season's competition, as the Premiership big guns make their entrance, but the former Linfield star - now 37-years-old and playing for Rathfriland, from Amateur League Division 1B - isn't planning to just turn up against Crusaders this afternoon.

While Feeney is a big admirer of what Stephen Baxter has done at Seaview, he wants to make today a horrible one for the north-Belfast outfit.

And with a large amount of Irish League experience in their ranks, Rathfriland have to be treated with respect.

Aaron Black was in the Crusaders team that won the Irish Cup in 2009 and his brother Ross, who lists Glenavon and Ballymena United among his former clubs, is also there.

Marty Havern (ex-Newry City), Ally Wilson (ex-Loughgall), James Costello (ex-Glenavon and Dungannon Swifts) and Conor Larkin (ex-Newry City and Glenavon) bring plenty of top flight know-how, while manager Clifford Sterritt also played at senior level for Loughgall.

"It's probably 20 years since I first played against Crusaders - and this will probably be my last time," said Feeney, who joined Rangers in a £100,000 deal 17 years ago last month.

"As a player I would probably be thinking 'this is the lowest-ranked team in the competition against the top-ranked team - and last season's champions - what chance do we have?'

"As assistant manager I'm telling the players that there have been bigger upsets than this. Worse teams than us have beaten better teams than Crusaders.

"We'll know in the first 10 minutes if we have a chance. I think we have the character in the team to roll the sleeves up and have a go.

"In the five games before we beat Abbey Villa in the last round, we were 1-0 down in each of them, but fought back to win."

Feeney caught the eye immediately when he burst onto the scene at Linfield as a teenager in the late 1990s.

His immense talent guaranteed that he wouldn't be in the Irish League for too long. The two years he spent at Linfield coincided with a rather barren spell at Windsor Park, meaning that victory today would count as Feeney's Irish Cup highlight.

"I never played in an Irish Cup final; I had semi-final defeats all over the place. I played in teams that should have won the Irish Cup, but never did," he said.

"The worst one I remember was against Glentoran in 1998. I think Andy Kirk scored two that day and that was the one that hurt me the most because we were big favourites and didn't deliver."

The Crues have had no problem in delivering under Baxter, particularly in the last 12 months as they look odds-on to retain their league title.

And Feeney has been impressed by the work at Seaview, even if it means his beloved Linfield are in the shadows.

"What Stephen Baxter has done in taking young players from lower leagues and turning them into cross-channel material is fantastic," said Feeney.

"He seems to be enjoying it and the job hasn't aged him.

"He's been brave in giving young players a chance, but I would love him and all those young lads to have a horrible day."

Belfast Telegraph

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