Dundonald and Comber Rec target Border Cup final place
The Border Cup holders may have crashed out in the first semi-final a fortnight ago, but that hasn't changed the outlook of the managers of second semi-finalists Dundonald and Comber Rec.
As the only remaining Premier Division side left in the competition, Ards Rangers were the favourites to go on and lift the trophy for a second year, however neither Dundonald’s Scott Harvey nor Comber Rec’s Phil McDonagh batted an eyelid when East Belfast dumped them out to reach the final.
And now, with a Division 1A club’s name guaranteed to be etched onto the cup this year, it's fair to say all three remaining clubs are dreaming of glory.
Harvey said: “I think the semi-final is the furthest Dundonald have ever reached. My dad, Ellis played in the 80s, when Killyleagh stopped them from getting to the final.
“He's still on the committee, but I don't feel any pressure to go one better or anything “Anyway, it's not about me - it's about the players. And even with Ards Rangers in the competition, I felt these boys could go on and win it.”
Now that it's East Belfast, instead of Rangers in the final though, there is the very real prospect of a derby finale. And although Dundonald and East Belfast have yet to meet this season, there would still be a major sense of familiarity if the two cross paths in the late December showpiece.
"It would be a great occasion," he continued. "I know everyone that plays for them, and they know our players - there would be no holding back for either of us."
Of course, they first have to overcome the test of Comber Rec - another team they have not yet faced this season.
And while he is respectful of his fellow 1A opponents, Harvey feels Dundonald have the quality to progress.
He said: "I would be confident no matter what, but when we have a full-strength squad to choose from, we can beat anybody. We showed that when we beat Crumlin Star in the last round, but unfortunately, we picked up a lot of injuries in that game.
“This game was supposed to be played last week, and if it had been, we would have been without five of our starters, but now that it’s been moved to the 18th, they should all be back.”
Similarly to his Dundonald counterpart Comber’s McDonagh as unsurprised when East Belfast made it to the final.
The former Dromara Village manager stated: “I know Ards Rangers are a good side, but I was actually expecting East Belfast to win.
“It just goes to show you how strong 1A is that the last three teams in the competition are from the division. I’ll be honest, it is a lot stronger than I thought.”
Many people may have thought after their relegation from the Premier Division last season, Comber would be right up there contending for promotion to get straight back to the top flight, and while that hasn’t necessarily been the case, they can point to the fact that they have only lost two of their seven league games to date.
One of those defeats - a crushing 4-1 loss to finalists East Belfast - was particularly tough to to take, but McDonagh believes it came along at just the right time.
He said: “I told the players, sometimes a defeat is as good as a victory. We were going well up to then, but East Belfast were the better team by far that day, and it kept us in check.
“I haven’t seen Dundonald play, but I’ve had a number of reports about them, and I know we will have to be 100 per cent focussed to beat them.”
It’s only fair that he should demand such high standards of his team - after all, he himself is hugely motivated to bring the club the silverware he feels their committee and supporters deserve.
McDonagh added: “In my opinion, Comber are the biggest club in Amateur League football. There is a lot of good work done by good people behind the scenes… but with that comes a level of expectations, and it can be frustrating to supporters when those expectations aren’t meant.
“The first team haven’t won a trophy since 1992 - hopefully we can change that this season.”