Belfast Telegraph

Crewe with illustrious history and Point to prove

By Laure James

George Best played his final game on Irish soil for Crewe United in 1995, and in 1983 they rolled out against Atletico Marbella - but only because match organisers had quite spectacularly mistaken them with intended opposition Crewe Alexandra.

Now, the Mid-Ulster team are preparing for the first Irish Cup sixth round tie in their history, a claim to fame by their own achievement, rather than coincidence.

While the hope is to make tomorrow's showdown with Warrenpoint Town a day to remember, Crewe have been hit by suspensions, injuries and have also sacrificed cup-tied players, meaning expectations are realistic.

"It's going to be an extremely tough match at Milltown," explained manager and former Northern Ireland international Peter Kennedy, who served under the late Graham Taylor at Watford.

"We are missing players and going into an extremely important game without our strongest side, but it's great for the club to be at this stage and we want to see where it takes us."

The ex-Watford and Notts County ace, who played for Portadown and Glenavon in the Irish League, is new to the management game and, while an Irish Cup knockout may not carry the same weight as an FA Cup tie or scoring the Hornets' first Premier League goal in 1999, Kennedy hopes his experience can help to turn Crewe into history-makers.

"I've not been here for very long, I think this is only my seventh game in charge, but I know what it means to the players to be at this stage," he said.

"When I was playing professionally we would travel as a team, stay in hotels and have a pre-match routine every weekend, but you don't get that at this level.

"This weekend will be different. We'll meet at our ground, travel to a hotel and have some brunch beforehand. We want the sense of occasion to be reflected in everything we do to prepare, so I think everyone's looking forward to it.

"Matthew Tipton has assembled a very strong side at Warrenpoint, they're a Championship side but I've no doubt they'll be in the Premiership next season and they are definitely a cut above.

"We want to make it hard for them, and everybody wants to put in a good performance. That really is all I can ask of them and who knows what could happen on the day."

Skipper Ciaran Burns admits since having earned a place in the last 16, they've barely talked about anything else.

"Since we beat Knockbreda, we've all just been buzzing, and desperate to get out there for this round," the centre-back said.

"We probably have a fair number of lads who have played in the Premiership and have experience of bigger matches, but there are plenty of younger ones who haven't seen anything like this before.

"I have just told them to take it as another game, that there may be more people attending and a bit of media coverage, but that it shouldn't affect them too much.

"We went into the Knockbreda game with the same attitude, and when you've no fear, you go in without the pressure.

"That's when things happen for you, especially as the underdogs."

Burns (29) added: "I only signed at the start of the season, but it's obvious what this means to the club.

"We know Warrenpoint will be tough; Matty has his lads playing very, very well. They like to keep the ball, play it out from the back and use their experience in games like this, so I know for sure we've got a tough game.

"It would be fantastic for me personally to beat Warrenpoint, but for the club it would be incredible. It's impossible to put that into words."

While this cup run is a road less travelled for Crewe, continental connections have generated opportunities for trips abroad.

Chairman Tom McKenna, who formed the club back in 1961, has long been an advocate of the club's cross-community work, which has helped create friendships in other countries, as well as within Northern Ireland.

"We've played in Paris, Holland and Spain, among other trips. I remember first making contact with a Dutch coach, Frans Geers, 25 years ago, as he was so impressed with our cross-community work," he said.

"He's brought students of sociology and sport over to visit the club, to learn more about what we do within the local area, and helped us organise plenty of trips to the Netherlands.

"Our main sponsors are the Maldron Hotel at Belfast International, which is fitting for a team which likes to travel as much as we do."

One of the best club anecdotes, however, is their case of mistaken identity while in Spain.

"We had arranged to play a friendly with Marbella, who were in the Second Division, and we were really excited to go out there," McKenna added.

"But only after we arrived did we realise they thought we were Crewe Alexandra.

"They assumed we had gotten the name of our own club wrong but, even having been 3-0 up at half-time and drawing 3-3, I don't think we minded that much."

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