Institute happy for Ards to bask in title limelight as they target Intermediate Cup glory
A lot of the hype surrounding the Intermediate Cup final has been about whether Ards can complete the league and cup double… and that suits Institute manager Kevin Deery just fine.
For while the spotlight has been firmly fixed on the North Down men, their Championship One rivals will be hoping to slip under the radar with a special double achievement of their own.
Results at the weekend ensured that Instute have finished their league campaign in fifth, and with the teams above them not eligible for promotion, the Drumahoe men will be targeting victory in the forthcoming promotion play-off with Ballinamallard, to join Ards in next season’s Danske Bank Premiership.
Perhaps, then, it is fitting that these are the two teams in this Windsor Park finale (tonight, Monday, 7.30pm).
Stute boss Deery stated: “You sometimes hear teams say they aren’t taking the cups as seriously as the league - well, I’m certainly glad that we did.
“These are the games you play for, and I hope the players relish it. Playing at Windsor Park will make that extra bit more enjoyable.
“If you had told me a few games into the season that we would end it in this sort of position, I’d have taken it all day long.”
It’s hard to believe that Institute only began the season with four points from their first seven games, giving Deery a massive uphill challenge in his first season in charge.
However, the former Trojans manager was already aware he would have a major task on his hands with the departure of nine first team players over an uncertain summer.
He said: “I came into the job quite late. I had to delve into my local knowledge and brought in young lads from the likes of Derry City and the Intermediate League.
“There are a couple of experienced players in there, but most of the guys I brought in are 18 or 19, and the trust I have put in them is really paying off.”
The development of this young talent has arguably been the biggest factor in Stute’s rich vein of form, with a run of only one defeat in 14 games - prior to Saturday's loss - spanning back to mid-November.
Coincidentally, that run began with a 2-0 away victory over Ards, and the one defeat was a 2-1 loss against none other than Ards last month.
“They were both tight games,” admitted Deery, “and I am expecting the Intermediate Cup final to be no different.
“Their title win was fully deserved, Ards are a great team, but they also didn’t get the luxury of playing a weakened team when they lost on Thursday night, so maybe playing three games in five days will have an effect.
“The one thing I do know is that if we can win the cup and get ourselves up into the Premiership, it will have been some season.”