East Belfast and Dundonald's Border Cup showdown set to be a festive cracker
The team who gets their hands on the Border Cup this year can truly claim to have earned it.
There is no sense of fluke in either of the teams in this year’s final (Seaview, Monday, December 28, 2pm) making it to the festive showpiece, and there is no question that the eventual winner will have done it the hard way.
East Belfast not only toppled the holders Ards Rangers at the semi-final stage, but also came back from 3-1 down with 10 men to beat Clarence Cup holders Immaculata. Dundonald also had a tricky route to the final, knocking out 2007 finalists Comber Rec and the highly-regarded Crumlin Star.
In fact, Dundonald manager Scott Harvey believes his side knocked out this year’s genuine tournament favourites, and therefore - despite standing four places below East Belfast in Division 1A with three extra games played - should not be taken lightly.
He said: “They’ll probably be pleased with themselves for beating the Mac and Ards Rangers, and so they should be. But in my opinion, Crumlin Star are the best team in the Amateur League at the minute.
“If you listen to what most people are saying, East Belfast are the favourites, but that’s fine with us. I know, looking around our squad, that we have the big-game players for a match like this. We have players that have won the Steel and Sons Cup, the Intermediate Cup and Championship One. Hopefully they can add the Border Cup to that list.”
And while lifting the trophy for the first ever time in Dundonald’s history would be a massive achievement for Harvey, his backroom colleagues Roy Green and James Dickson, and the club as a whole, what they really want is for this not to be a one-off.
Harvey continued: “We need to give it a good go, as it’s the sort of occasion that mightn’t come around too often.
“But my aim is to be challenging for these things every year. Yes, we have been inconsistent in the league, but when we are able to put the same team every week, we can be a real force.”
And what sort of a game is the Dundonald manager expecting?
Harvey added: “The way we play and the way the East play, I’d be getting money on a goal-rush bet, if I was a gambling man. There’ll be a massive crowd, and I’d say those first 20 minutes will be played at 110 miles an hour!”
The derby-day aspect of this encounter only serves to add to the intrigue of this promising all-1A finale.
East Belfast manager Stephen Matthews admits the anticipation has been building in the locality over the past few weeks.
“After we’d won our semi-final, I wanted Dundonald to win theirs,” he said. “It’s such a big game and everybody has been talking about it.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that East Belfast are the favourites, because Dundonald have shown that they are a good side. We haven’t played a lot of football lately, because of the weather - but all the same, if we turn up on the day, we will give ourselves a great chance.”
The East have landed this silverware twice before (the last coming back in 1952), and while they are eager to add to their current trophy cabinet, they, like Dundonald, view this game as a piece of a much bigger jigsaw in the long term.
Matthews admitted: “I’m just pleased to be here. This club nearly folded 18 months ago, because we couldn’t get enough players to fulfill fixtures. We were literally one game away from being kicked out of the league and having to start all over again.
“Now, with the seconds up and running, and winning the Templeton Cup last season, our ladies team, 12 junior teams, and our first team winning the 1B title last season, things are going really well. It’s a bonus for us if we win the Border Cup.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that the East aren’t fully motivated for this clash. Indeed, having done so well up to this point, defeat is not an option they will allow themselves to contemplate.
Matthews said: “My assistant Paul Wilson played in the final years ago, and he was on the losing side. He said he was sick about it for weeks. You basically don’t want to come back and think about what could have been.
“I don’t think there is any danger of this team getting complacent, though - they are right up for every game. They know it’s not in the bag, and they’ll be going to Seaview fired up to win.”