Rice can't wait for Armagh's 'day in the sun' at Linfield
Everyone dreams of a cup final day in May… but Armagh City manager Marty Rice is keeping it real.
The Holm Park City outfit have one of the most challenging tasks ahead of them in the Tennent’s Irish Cup sixth round this weekend, as they attempt to defeat Linfield on their own turf.
Yet, unlike most of the other teams outside of the Danske Bank Premiership still left in the competition, Armagh won’t have to make it all the way until the May 7 finale to earn an outing at Windsor Park. Rice is very much looking forward to stepping out at the famous stadium, and is telling his players to do the same.
The Armagh boss told The Park: “It will be a big occasion to lead the team out at the national stadium. This is their day in the sun for all the hard work they have put in to get to this stage.
“I have a young side with an average age of about 24 or 25, and it is a brilliant opportunity for them to showcase their ability. At the end of the day, everybody wants to compete at as a high a level as possible, and it doesn’t get much higher than Linfield.”
Admittedly, it has been some time since the Blues have been able to claim the title of the top club side in Northern Ireland in terms of form, and new manager David Healy hasn’t exactly had it all his own way since taking over earlier in October.
Yet Rice is the last man who would talk up his team’s chances of springing what would undeniably be the upset of the round.
He continued: “I don’t think there is such a thing as a better time to take on Linfield. This will be a steep learning curve for my players, but it’s one they should enjoy.
“Everything about this game means it’s the one you want in a cup draw. The history of the club, the support they bring, the fact that their manager is a footballing icon in this part of the world, and the fact that it is in Windsor Park, and you think of all the world class players who have sat in those changing rooms.
“Sometimes you have days where the team expected to win has an off-day and the underdog has a good one. That’s why we love football… it can throw up these weird and wonderful results.
“I suppose you could say Linfield are in a no-win situation - if they win three or four-nil, people will say, ‘sure it’s only Armagh City’, but any less than that, and they will be disappointed. It’s actually a harder game for them than for us.”
Whether that’s a clever tactic on Rice’s part to deflect any pre-match nerves or whether he’s simply stating the facts as he sees them, the Armagh boss is much too modest. His side held Linfield’s derby rivals Glentoran to a 1-1 draw at this stage of the Irish Cup two years ago, before eventually losing 2-1 in the replay.
They also have the opportunity to land themselves an impressive double trophy haul, with the Mid Ulster Cup final and the postponed Bob Radcliffe Cup final still to play.
So whatever happens on Armagh’s journey to Windsor on Saturday, there is a good chance of a silver lining at the end of it.