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Proud dad Neill is hoping to deliver a big Cup shock

By Graham Luney

It's been a dream start to the year for Portstewart skipper John Neill and the good news keeps coming as he's available for the big Irish Cup fifth round clash at the home of holders Glenavon today.

The former Coleraine defender thought he was going to miss the Mourneview Park battle as his wife Nichola was set to give birth on Friday.

But Nichola and John welcomed their baby daughter Erin into the world on Tuesday morning and the 35-year-old will soon have his hands full dealing with the Lurgan Blues frontmen.

An amazing week could end with a stunning Cup upset and the Liverpool fan doesn't want his feet to touch the ground just yet.

"It's been a crazy week," admits John who wears the armband in the absence of injured club captain James Peden.

"I didn't think I was going to play and our manager left it up to me to make the decision. Had Erin arrived on the Friday I would have probably missed the game but she's home now and sleeping well. We've named her Erin in a nice tribute to Nichola's father who is called Aaron and he's a coach at Portstewart. Her five-year-old brother Harry will keep her right."

A perfect end to a perfect week would be a shock win for the visitors in Lurgan today and Glenavon should be wary as the boys from the north coast have a few secret Irish Cup weapons in their ranks, not to mention former X factor heart-throb Eoghan Quigg.

Quigg, who finished third on ITV talent show the X Factor behind Alexandra Burke and JLS in 2008, will be one of the Portstewart strikers looking to silence Glenavon.

"I'm loving it there," said Eoghan. "The boys are all lovely fellas and while I get the X Factor banter I'm well used to it!"

John was part of the Coleraine side that was beaten 2-1 by Linfield in the 2008 decider while his brother-in-law, coach Anthony Gilmore, is one of the privileged group of men who can say they have scored in an Irish Cup final.

Gilmore, wearing Carrick Rangers colours, hit the back of the Linfield net during the 1995 decider at the Oval but the Blues ran out 3-1 winners with a Garry Haylock brace and Ian McCoosh goal settling the contest in front of almost 7,000 fans.

"What an experience that was, the 2008 final," recalls John. "Paddy McLaughlin put us ahead but Peter Thompson scored twice. For a local guy to play in an Irish Cup Final was brilliant. You don't forget moments like that and I can always remember Marty Quinn saying we were very fortunate to experience something like that. Many players have missed out on that. You're talking about real career highlights. It was a great Coleraine side from Davy O'Hare to Stephen Carson and Jody Tolan.

"Anthony scored for Carrick in the 1995 final and he was rightly very proud of it. Whenever the highlights came on the television he was shouting for everyone to come in and watch it.

"I played in the Irish Cup game when Portadown came here to play us but the rules now say we have to travel and it doesn't make the task any easier but we have a lot of players who are hungry to make a big impression and this game offers them a platform to show what they can do.

"It's an opportunity for them to produce a 'come and get me' performance and young players just need a club to take a chance on them. They've been at Coleraine and learned a lot. I think about eight of them could make a step up. We've got a fighting chance of winning this Cup tie if Glenavon underestimate us."

The Northern Ireland Intermediate League minnows sit top of the division and the Cup road to Mourneview has seen them sweep aside Moneyslane 2-0, Killyleagh 5-0 and Derriaghy 4-2 - all away from home.

Manager Taylor is another former Coleraine player and he's earned the title of 'Portstewart's Ryan Giggs', giving more than 20 years service as a player and now manager.

"I was a centre forward for Coleraine but as the years went on I drifted back into defence," says Gary.

"I was at Linfield for two years but didn't make the breakthrough. I've been with Portstewart for around 20 years and we've had good teams. When you are winning trophies you want to be part of something and there has been a great team spirit.

"We won the Second Division and had great success under manager Trevor McKendry.

"Last season was terrible and we had no luck with influential players suffering injuries. Five teams slipped out of Championship Two and our fate was sealed but we managed to keep the team together and we've only lost once this season - to Limavady in the North West Cup.

"There is no pressure on us, we will enjoy the experience and hopefully cause an upset. We know the size of the task but we have one or two lads who could play at a higher level and they can show that.

"But when I think about the romance and magic of the Irish Cup it's a shame we aren't playing at our home ground.

"The rules have changed and I feel it's laughable.

"But we will continue our proud Cup tradition of making it hard for senior sides. Glenavon have made a few changes to their squad and maybe the boys that come in will not gel as well.

"We will give them a game and hopefully take the chances that come our way."

Glenavon have been warned - Portstewart have the X Factor.

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