Cup dream still alive for Strabane
Strabane Athletic boss Martin Doherty believes his side have shown they are more than capable of springing an Irish Cup upset after drawing with Ballinamallard United at Ferney Park in the fifth round over the weekend.
The Northern Ireland Intermediate League side must now do it all over again, with a replay against the Danske Bank Premiership outfit on January 21 standing between them and a sixth round tie against Glenavon.
And speaking after Saturday’s surprise result, Doherty says there is a positive spirit about his players when it comes to the possibility of going one better when they next do battle.
He said: “No doubt about it, we had to raise our game, and I think we played to the max. In fact, I’d say that for large parts of the game, we played the better football, and the longer the game went on, the more we looked like we might nick a goal. If anything, Ballinamallard’s confidence seemed to drain away.
“My players were buzzing after the game, because the fear factor of getting stuffed isn’t an issue for them. I have five or six players in this team who have played at Championship level, and still could, if they wanted.”
Naturally, Doherty is chuffed that those very same players have chosen to stick with him, and recognises the important part everyone at the club has played in getting them to this exciting point in their development.
He continued: “We were playing in the Third Division of the Fermanagh & Western League three years ago, on boggy pitches. Now we are holding a Premiership team to a goalless draw in the fifth round of the Irish Cup… it doesn’t get better than that!”
Of course, it does. But we will have to wait a little longer to find out if it can do for Doherty and his impressive underdogs.
Even if they don’t manage to overturn the odds in next week’s replay, they will still have every chance of glory in the league, but they have a huge fixture backlog to make up, having only played two fixtures – both of which, they have incidentally won.
But one definitely gets the impression, from speaking to Doherty, that all his thoughts are firmly fixed on this wonderful Irish Cup journey, and making it last that little bit longer.
He added: “I have played for Ballinamallard before, as well as the likes of Omagh Town and Coleraine, and I know that these type of cup games could always be tricky for teams in senior football. My boys have nothing to fear.
“We played Ballinamallard in a pre-season friendly and they beat us 3-0, but all of those goals came in the last 20 minutes. Playing them again on Saturday has given us more confidence in our ability.
“We can give it an even better go the next time round.”
*For the full rundown of score-lines from the Irish Cup fifth round and elsewhere, please turn to our results section, and also catch up with how Championship sides fared in Northern Ireland’s main knockout competition with our Irish Cup round-up.
Belfast Telegraph Digital