Foundry boss McIlwaine wary of what Ballymena have in Reserve for Steel Cup
Like most followers of the local game, Albert Foundry manager Colin McIlwaine has watched with no small amount of surprise at Ballymena United’s start to the season, and in particular, their 7-1 slump to Glenavon a fortnight ago.
Rooted to the bottom of the NIFL Premier League without a single point to their name from their opening four fixtures, it is astounding to think the Showgrounds side were narrow 2-1 runners-up to the same opponents in the 2014 Irish Cup final.
However, McIlwaine is adamant that none of this will have any relevance when it comes to sending out his Amateur League Premier Division outfit against Ballymena United Reserves in the Steel & Sons Cup second round this weekend.
When asked if the first team’s disappointing start gave him hope, he stated: “That’s not the way it works. Most reserve teams are all about development.
“You have a group of young lads, most of them about 18 or 19-year-old, all coming in with something to prove, and with ambitions to break their way through to the first team. They will be hungry, and keen to impress. I’d be very surprised if they were weak at all.
“We played against a young Glentoran development side in our first game back, and it ended up a draw. It was a good test, and we ended up with a draw. We also played a Linfield select team, including a lot of Linfield Swifts players, and that was a competitive game too.”
Each team begins a new campaign with a clear idea of their priorities, and Foundry are no different, with league concerns very much at the top of the tree. Yet, unlike many of his adversaries, McIlwaine includes a cup run or two within his ambitions for the season, embracing the ‘feel-good factor’ of a trophy trail rather than dismissing it as an unwanted distraction.
And what competition could be more appealing to the notion of cup magic and romance than the one that leads all the way to a Christmas morning final?
The Foundry boss remarked: “A cup run can always give a club huge boost, and the Steel & Sons Cup is a glamorous one to be going for. We will be playing our strongest team in every round, and getting as far as we can in it.
“The thing we have got in our favour for this match is that we have a home draw, so hopefully we will be able to use our big pitch to our advantage.”
Unusually, so far this season, Paisley Park has not been the fortress that Foundry have built it up to be in previous seasons.
They began the current league campaign with back-to-back home games against Malachians and Ards Rangers, yet by the end of those 180 minutes, had nothing to show for their efforts, with respective 2-1 and 2-0 defeats.
Things have been picking up more recently, with a 1-0 away victory over derby rivals Shankill United and a thumping 4-1 triumph at Drumaness Mills.
Most promising of all has been the emergence of young Jamie Mitchell, a former Larne prospect who has notched three goals in his last two outings, and will be in the mood to add to that impressive tally on Saturday.
At a time when Foundry are coping with a number of injuries and suspensions, a steady supply of goals could prove just the tonic.