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Connolly has faith despite his run of cup heartbreak

By Graham Luney

Veteran goalkeeper John Connolly has good reason to curse the Irish Cup but he's hoping for some rare knockout bliss this weekend.

The Armagh City captain is hoping his Championship side can dump Cup holders Glenavon out of this season's tournament at Holm Park.

That would be a perfect 40th birthday present for the Dublin man after he hit the special milestone on Wednesday and it's fair to say he's due the rub of the green in this competition.

Connolly and his Cliftonville comrades lost the 2009 decider to Crusaders while a broken leg denied him any chance of featuring for Glenavon in the 2014 final against Ballymena United.

"The Irish Cup makes me think about the final in 2009 when Cliftonville lost to Crusaders and while I played well in the game there was no comfort when the Crues ran out winners," said Connolly, who spent an enjoyable eight years with the Reds.

"It was a huge game, even bigger than your normal north Belfast derby, so it really hurt.

"It was tough to take and my luck in the competition didn't improve as I missed out on Glenavon's great success in the final against Ballymena United in 2014 after I broke my leg. Football can be cruel and that kind of misfortune happens.

"You just have to pick yourself up and get on with things. It's a prestigious competition and hopefully we can go much further than the sixth round. Glenavon are a top side with quality players but we will give it everything we can.

"My time there was disappointing as the leg injury was a serious one and Gary (Hamilton) had to bring in another keeper. But they are a great family club, with great people and facilities. In fact, they are a role model for other clubs and their recent record of Irish Cup success is phenomenal."

Despite just turning 40, Connolly has no plans to hang up the gloves and he's loving life at City.

"I've been with Armagh for just over a year and a half and I'm really enjoying it," he added.

"I'm only 20 minutes away in Newry and this game is one we are all looking forward to.

"It will be a very difficult game against a side that won the trophy twice in three years. We must be honest and say they will expect to win. But with that expectation comes pressure and hopefully a refereeing decision or a bit of luck could put us in the next round."

City boss Marty Rice is also quietly confident his boys can test the mettle of the holders.

"I don't believe we have anything to fear," he said defiantly. "I don't think there's a huge gulf in class between a lot of the Championship and Premiership sides. Warrenpoint have done very well against senior opposition and surprises happen in the cup competitions.

"We have seen H&W Welders upset Glenavon and Lurgan Celtic beat Portadown while Annagh United beat Glentoran this season. You play in the wind and rain and through the bad times for a game like this and when it comes you want to perform to your potential.

"We also have an artificial surface here and I know Gary (Hamilton) is not a big fan of them. Unfortunately some of our players have moved on and we've suffered injuries but there's still real belief in our camp.

"We have an opportunity to defy the odds and spring a surprise. We will show no fear and enjoy the occasion. It's Glenavon who have everything to lose."

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