Miskelly out to Burn Linfield
Billy Joe Burns didn’t dream of appearing in a Irish Cup final when he was even more of a fresh faced youngster than he is now.
Irish League football never dominated his thoughts when he was kicking a ball around the street like every other young pretender.
But from the moment he signed for Linfield as a promising 16-year-old, everything changed.
While players like Noel Bailie have pocketed every honour in the game, Burns is hoping to follow in those famous footsteps, carving out a trophy-laden career for himself.
Even at the tender age of 21, he has blossomed into a competent and versatile performer, defending or attacking on the right side with real purpose.
Now with a first league winner’s medal sitting pretty on his mantlepiece, Irish Cup glory is next on his hit-list.
Pre-match nerves are nothing new to the big man, but he will feel the tension like never before tomorrow.
“I wasn’t a big follower of Irish League football to be honest,” he said.
“Once I turned 16 when I joined Linfield that is when the dream started and you start to imagine what it would be like to play in an Irish Cup final.
“I’m sure the nerves will be there before the game — I’m like that for any game — but once the first whistle goes it all goes out of your system and the adrenaline takes you through.
“It’s natural to be nervous — I am a nervous person, but I’ll try to put all that out of my head. That’s why you are in football, you want to play in front of the big crowds in the big games.
“If you aren’t happy to be involved in those games then there is no point in being in the game.”
Linfield fans are probably pinching themselves as they prepare to inspire their team to double success.
The blue juggernaut certainly wasn’t looking unstoppable before Christmas, but some serious soul searching turned the tide and boo-boys have been silenced.
It was the league title or bust for manager David Jeffrey and many of his players — and they knew it.
The pressure was intense, but they responded in the style of true champions.
As a young player, Burns has had to be educated quickly in the demands of Ireland’s most successful club — it’s a very steep learning curve for promising talent.
“We’ve had our ups and downs all year so to do the double now would be a magnificent ending,” added Burns. “The icing on the cake.
“I haven’t won the Irish Cup before, but it’s a great competition and hopefully we can win it on Saturday. After winning my first league winner’s medal it would be great to get my first Irish Cup medal and it would be a very special souvenir to have.
“At the start of the season the league and cup were our two top targets and it would be an incredible achievement to win both.
“The boys are on a real high, but we know we have a huge game on Saturday and everyone is focused on the challenge ahead.
“Everything we have achieved in the league is now forgotten about until the cup final is over.”
Burns may not have played in an Irish Cup final before, but he is in good company.
“There were ten of us who haven’t won a league medal and it’s probably the same scenario in terms of winning an Irish Cup final,” he added.
“Portadown are a very good team who have already beaten us twice this year so we will not be feeling we are favourites — we will be going out to do our very best.
“Anyone can win the cup finals — they are one-off games and anything can happen.
“I don’t think Windsor Park is an advantage to us as we have been beaten six times here this season so we will not be taking anything for granted.”