Welders have history in mind as they pursue Steel glory
Harland & Wolff Welders manager Gary Smyth doesn’t have to cast his mind too far back for motivation ahead of this year’s Steel & Sons Cup final against Albert Foundry (Seaview, Christmas morning, 10.45am). In fact, he and his players can look back to exactly just one year ago.
Last season’s finale is the type of memory that takes a lot to erase. The build-up had a similar feel to this year, with the Welders highly fancied to defeat Carrick Rangers, having already crushed them 3-0 earlier in the league campaign and gone on a seven-match winning run.
Yet Carrick brought that run to an end in dramatic fashion last Christmas morning with a comprehensive 4-1 victory en route to their famous Steel & Sons Cup, Intermediate Cup and NIFL Championship One treble.
The nature of the defeat means that Smyth won’t have much of a team talk to give this year. Most of his players will recall the one-sided thrashing that inspired them to follow last season’s final with another seven straight victories, and will hope to use that in a similar fashion as then.
Smyth said: “It was hard to take, but I was never one to go on the pitch crying. I cared, of course, but I have always been the sort to think, ‘there’s always next year.’
“I was more disappointed for the players than for me - I’ve been to plenty of finals - but they didn’t owe me anything, they were winning a lot of games before the final and after it.
“I just asked them, ‘do you ever want to feel this way again?’ There are people who only go to that one match every year, just like when I was playing for the Glens, there were some people whose only game was the Big Two derby on Boxing Day.”
As the favourites, once again, the Welders will be expected to deliver in front of what will undoubtedly be a bumper crowd. Sitting second in the league, just a point behind Ards, they have shown themselves likely to be a force at the business end of the season once more.
And with Michael McLellan scoring for fun - with 25 goals in 14 games including a hat-trick in Saturday’s Intermediate Cup second round tie against Downshire YM - and Davy Rainey also in fine form with 14 goals to his name this term, those expectations will be high again.
But can the favourite tag be too heavy for those that have to wear it?
“That’s always the question,” said Smyth. “You can prepare for a match as much as you want, but if you’re scared to lose - or even scared to win - that all goes out the window.
“I was at the Oval a few years ago when Newington knocked Glentoran out of the Irish Cup, so I’m not stupid… I know what can happen. But I am confident that if everybody turns up, we’ll be a match for anybody.”
The fact that the Welders defeated Foundry 4-0 when they met in the fourth round of this competition last season will surely add to that confidence. But great expectations and a sense of putting the disappointment of last season’s final defeat aren’t the only two motivating factors for Smyth’s men.
The Welders boss added: “It’s the club’s 50th year, so it would be nice for everyone connected with the club if we could bring the trophy home.
“And with the Steel & Sons Cup not open to clubs in Championship One from next season, we have plenty of reasons for winning it this year.”
And as Carrick showed last season, lifting this trophy can prove to be the springboard for further success in the months ahead… something to which every man in a Welders shirt will be aspiring.