Keith O'Hara insists Irish Cup triumph can open door to title glory for Portadown
Portadown captain and elder statesman Keith O'Hara is feeling like a teenager again, thanks to an upcoming Irish Cup final appearance and a group of team-mates he says are the funniest in his time at the club.
O'Hara will step onto local football's biggest stage for the fourth time in his career when the Ports face Glentoran in this season's showpiece at The Oval on Saturday and although he is now 34-years-old, the anticipation is just the same as it was when he played in his first 15 years ago, also against the Glens.
"I'm totally excited and I can't wait until the game starts," said O'Hara.
It's not just the present that excites O'Hara though. While admitting that the league campaign was a huge disappointment for a team many fancied to claim the title, the Irish Cup offers a silver lining - and the captain hopes that it can also be the catalyst for a stronger challenge next season.
"We let ourselves down in the league campaign," he admitted.
"We started off on fire and unfortunately just beyond Christmas we faded.
"It's been a tough last couple of months and we haven't picked up as many points as we should have, which is disappointing and we missed out on a European spot too.
"We have one more chance and hopefully we can take it.
"Winning trophies is the most important part of playing the game and if we can finish the season on a high hopefully it can kick-start this team into next season and the lift can lead to us going on and challenging harder for the league.
"If we can win the Irish Cup I believe that with the confidence gained from it this squad could go on and compete for everything over the next couple of years.
"We have a great bunch of lads and we know that there are winners in the team and it's not an old squad.
"We only have four or five players who are over 30 and some good young lads pushing to come in, so the future can be bright."
O'Hara is one of that band of over 30s and another member of the Ports squad, 17-year-old Shea Conaty, was aged just two when his captain first appeared in an Irish Cup final.
The Ports lost the Millennium final 1-0 to an Ian Gilzean goal.
"I was a young lad at the time, totally different to now. There is nothing that beats playing in an Irish Cup final, but it's not the same when you don't win," said O'Hara, who went on to lose another final to Linfield two years later before finally getting his hands on the Irish Cup when the Ports beat Larne in 2005, before missing the 2010 defeat against Linfield through injury.
"People take it for granted that they will get to another Cup final, maybe not every year but over and over again in their careers.
"The prime example is that I played in three inside five years and because I missed our last one in 2010 it's now 10 years since my last appearance, so when you get the chance to win it you really have to take it.
"It would mean more to me now, not so much because of the stage of my career that I am at, but because I am captain.
"I always looked up to Brian Strain and Vinny Arkins, who have lifted it before and I've seen lots of pictures of them and it was always an aim of mine to do it."
O'Hara's playing time this season has been limited due to a long-standing injury, plus a couple of suspensions along the way following red cards.
Manager Ronnie McFall also manages his skipper's training schedule so as to keep him as fresh as possible when he is available for matches.
Although that means he isn't on the pitch as regularly as the rest of his team-mates, O'Hara still relishes being around on every training night because of the atmosphere at the club.
"The dressing room is probably one of the funniest I've ever been in," said O'Hara.
"They are a wild bunch and they keep me young at heart."