Foundry target Larne upset in bid for Steel Cup final four place
Almost exactly two years to the day after suffering the heartache of expulsion from the Steel & Sons Cup quarter-final stage over a player ineligibility issue, Colin McIlwaine is preparing his players for what he deems “a second bite of the cherry.”
The Paisley Park men have proven themselves to be one of the most consistent teams in the Amateur League, with regular top four finishes across the past decade. They are one of the teams tipped to be “there or thereabouts” at the end of the campaign by rival managers when the pre-season predictions are made each year.
This, however, represents an opportunity to put the club on the local football map beyond the Amateur League circles. It is a chance for a well-established club to gain wider respect and recognition, and most importantly of all, to give its supporters something to get excited about.
For there are few fixtures in Northern Ireland’s sporting calendar that stir the soul quite like the unique Christmas morning Steel & Sons Cup final at Seaview - and victory over Larne would potentially put the dream of featuring in the famous showpiece a mere 90 minutes away.
McIlwaine said: “There’s no getting away from it… an away draw against Larne was one of the last things we were looking for, and we will go in against them as the underdogs. But sometimes, the underdogs win.
“Cup football is special, and this will be a second bite of the cherry for us after our disappointment at being kicked out of the quarter-finals a couple of seasons ago. We are also out of the Border Cup and the Irish Cup this year now, so that probably makes this game all the more important for us.
“The prize for us is to get to the last four and create a real buzz around the club. It’s a massive game.”
McIlwaine clearly wants his team to stir the club’s supporters, and although they have managed to gain 11 points from a possible 21 so far, the manager is demanding more, to push his fourth-placed outfit even further up the division.
Make no mistake, this cup tie is a big ask - in Championship One this season, Larne have shown no mercy to opponents who have failed to turn up the day, as seen when they put Lisburn Distillery (7-0), Donegal Celtic (6-1) and Loughgall (7-3) all to the sword by hefty margins.
Yet Immaculata last month demonstrated in round four what can happen when a lower division team brings their A-game to Inver Park… with the Championship club requiring a penalty shootout after the sides were locked in a 2-2.
With Larne in good form (having beaten Steel Cup favourites Harland & Wolff Welders 2-1 a fortnight ago in the league), and that close escape in round four sure to still be in the Invermen’s minds, have the odds of an upset narrowed?
“I don’t know,” mused McIlwaine. “Most managers understand now that teams in the Amateur League are more than capable of giving them a good game.
“I think Newington beating Glentoran in the Irish Cup a few years ago was the big one, and a few other teams have pulled off big upsets since.
“I know big Davy (McAlinden, Larne manager) and he will be respectful and professional about the way he sets his team out for this one. They are a top quality side and we will have to be at our best.”
Another amateur representative looking to overturn the odds is Division 1A side St Patrick’s YM, who face Championship One table-toppers H&W Welders, while fellow 1A club 1st Bangor OB host Championship Two's third-placed side PSNI and there is a mouth-watering clash of the second strings with North Belfast rivals Cliftonville Olympic and Crusaders Reserves battling it out for a place in the semis.