Immaculata and Shankill United eager to finish off season with a trophy
All things are relative, but it would be fair to say that supporters of Immaculata and Shankill United can be satisfied with what their respective teams have achieved this season.
That said, a victory in Wednesday night’s Clarence Cup final (Seaview, 7.30pm) would mean mean more than a mere bonus to both.
When Robert Robinson took charge of Shankill at the turn of the calendar year, they had plenty to keep their mind occupied through winter’s darkest and coldest months.
With only a handful of points from their games approaching the halfway stage, they looked favourites to be relegated to Division 1A, yet the change at the top seemed to rejuvenate the club’s fortunes, and the Agnes Street men ended up finishing ninth out of 14.
Robinson, who clearly enjoyed overturning the odds, said the outcome was never in doubt - and you get the impression he is quietly confident in his players doing similarly this week.
He said: “Nobody gave us a chance, and while some people might say that hindsight is a wonderful thing, I knew deep down that we wouldn’t go down. When I interviewed for the job, I told the committee I could keep the club up.
“It took a while, but the team started to understand the way we wanted things done, and in the end, it wasn’t any trouble. Their attitude was brilliant, and that helped us beat some top teams to move up the table.”
One of those teams to which Robinson refers is Immaculata. A 2-1 away victory over the Premier Division newcomers gave the then relegation battlers a timely boost.
And while he knows his side will have their work cut out against the Mac, the Shankill boss reckons his side are capable of finishing their season with a piece of silverware.
He said: “We have got to be the underdogs. Immaculata are a strong, physical, experienced side, but will have a game plan. We haven’t had a game for the past two weeks, so whether that works in our favour or not, we will have to see.
“The big picture was always to make sure we stayed up, but now that we are in this final, we want to win it. There is no point in being there if you don’t want to.
For Immaculata, this season was about establishing themselves among the Amateur League’s big guns in their debut Premier Division campaign.
Yet the club’s influential captain Colm O’Riordan believes it will have been a failure if they were now to enter their summer break without a piece of silverware to celebrate.
He said: “This club is all about winning trophies. That’s what we set out to do at the start of every season, and after just missing out on the 1A title last season, for a club like us to go two years without a trophy would be unthinkable.”
That’s not to say Kevin Lawlor’s Immaculata will take their opponents lightly. Shankill, after all, had a key role in derailing their title challenge just a few weeks ago.
O’Riordan added: “A lot of people will probably look at us as favourites, and we know if we play to our best, we are good enough to win it. But it is always a tough game against Shankill - we beat them 1-0 at theirs, and they beat us 2-1 at ours.
“It will be tight, I’m sure.”
Most clubs would see finishing fourth in their first top flight campaign as a relative success. Not Immaculata. That is why they are so determined to get their hands on the Clarence Cup for the first time since 2011.
O’Riordan added: “It was quite disappointing to finish where we did, but the same happened to Crumlin Star at the end of last season, so I suppose we knew it would happen to us.
“Everyone was picking up stupid injuries, as we had so many games left to play in a short time. We may have to sit to down and think about how we approach the cup competitions over the summer, but right now, we are completely focused on getting this trophy."