Belfast Telegraph

Smyth's a prize guy

Four-time Irish Cup winner out to shock Spike's fancied Ballymena

By Graham Luney

Gary Smyth may have been sucked into the murky world of football management but his distinguished playing career ensures the romance of the Irish Cup will never leave him.

When it comes to experiencing the highs and lows of the domestic game's premier knockout competition, there are very few players who can match the 44-year-old in the storytelling department.

Smyth has been there, done it and worn the winner's t-shirt.

An illustrious career with Glenavon, Glentoran and Crusaders saw him play in SEVEN Irish Cup finals.

The former defender won FOUR of them and remarkably all of the showpiece occasions have finished 1-0!

Joy and despair has been dished out in equal measure but defeats have been accepted with grace.

"I'm not one for falling to my knees and crying after a defeat," says Smyth.

"It's disappointing to lose a final but I was still proud to be involved in them.

"I remember I lost my first one when at Glenavon. Glentoran beat us in the 1996 final when Glen Little scored but we had a really close knit team then and the party went on.

"I enjoyed the wins and when I lost I said to myself 'well there is always next year'."

Smyth's Irish Cup glory moments came with Glenavon in 1997, Glentoran in 2001 and 2004 and finally with Crusaders in 2009 – his last game in senior football.

Talk about leaving the stage with a bang.

"The Irish Cup has been good to me," said a modest Smyth who has taken charge at Belfast Telegraph Championship One side H&W Welders.

"I really can't believe every single final I was in finished 1-0! To win the trophy with three different sides is special.

"They all have special meaning for me but the first one always gives great pleasure and it was a sweet end to my career when the Crues won it for the first time in 41 years and against derby rivals Cliftonville as well."

The new Welders chief is now looking to inflict some Irish Cup pain on his good pal Glenn Ferguson, whose Sky Blues side visit Tillysburn on Saturday (1.30pm) aiming to avoid a fifth round shock.

Smyth and Ferguson are close friends since their Glenavon days and some tasty challenges in Big Two battles down through the years didn't harm their relationship!

"Spike's the main man," added Smyth who this week snapped up midfielder Scott Davidson from Ards.

"Even from the age of 19 he was a strong man and he was one of those players that made sure you had to be on top of your game.

"Guys like Spike gave me a lift because you knew you had a huge challenge ahead. There were many great strikers around in those days including Stevie McBride, Garry Haylock, Vinny Arkins, Stephen Baxter and Martin McGaughey, while Newry had Ollie Ralph."

Smyth also had two enjoyable years at Ballymena United and he wore the captain's armband with pride.

"I've great memories from my time there but unfortunately Linfield – and Spike – beat us in the final of the County Antrim Shield and then there was that Irish Cup semi-final defeat to Larne in 2005," he added.

"I have never seen a more one-sided match in my life but we just could not score that day."

Smyth is hoping it will be a similar story for the Sky Blues on Saturday.

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