Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Davids cut down to size on a night of giant Irish Cup shocks

By Billy Weir

I will hold my hands up right from the off here and admit that my Bible studies have not been as good as they could have been for the last three or four decades.

For example, I am sure the story goes that David slayed a giant, but I certainly don't recall it being that not just one, but two, were cut down to size by pesky upstarts.

Then again, little Larne (again, we must use 'little' when talking of any non-Premiership club) were armed with more than just a slingshot, they were hurling bricks. Purple ones.

Property website guru Kenny Bruce's ambitious plans to turn his hometown club into a force took another massive step forward on Tuesday evening when they deservedly knocked neighbours Ballymena United out of the Tennent's Irish Cup at Warden Street.

So while at one side of the Showgrounds the Red and White Army rightfully and gleefully hailed their heroes, across the pitch the Sky Blue Army were venting their spleens at whoever they could find - players, manager and board.

Calls of 'sack the board' and fans squabbling amongst themselves in this part of the world are nothing new, but for David Jeffrey, who has had something of a Midas touch since taking over the Braidmen, this is a major test.

The honeymoon period is well and truly over and, yes, the club is experiencing a medical crisis of A&E proportions, but the simple matter of fact is this - they are simply not good enough.

After winning the League Cup last season and winning through to play in Europe, there was talk in some circles that United could challenge for the title. That was and is hogwash.

The injuries, of course, play a huge part. The strikers have missed too many games, defensively they have never had a partnership and the midfield is bereft of drive and guile, robbed through injury of the likes of Gary Thompson and Stephen McAlorum.

I don't argue with many of the decisions the big man makes, but not keeping Allan Jenkins on for another season was, in my opinion, a mistake.

His passion, drive and leadership are sorely missed, but with United making their way to two finals this season, the reality of the situation has been somewhat masked. In those finals they were embarrassed by Crusaders - no shame in that - and Dungannon Swifts, who simply wanted it more on the day. That will have shocked David and he was similarly crestfallen against Larne.

"We knew this second season would be tough - and injuries have played a part," he said.

"The players have to take a good, long hard look at themselves. I feel personally let down and for the supporters I am bitterly disappointed.

"But I have said it very clearly tonight to the players, this is a rollercoaster ride and who stays on? That is up to the players."

You have been warned.

And talking of rollercoaster rides, there's no better man then than one called Barry, who did his own bit of giant-killing on Tuesday night as Mr Gray's boys heaped 50 shades of pressure on another David.

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David Healy

Cliftonville rode their luck at times, and Brian Neeson had a great night, but, like Jeffrey, David Healy's hangover from the highs of last season shows no signs of dissipating.

The Irish Cup was Linfield's last chance of salvaging something from an abysmal campaign. Three trophies last year seemed to suggest that Healy had silenced the doubters who have never really gone away at Windsor Park.

He too has had his problems with injuries, but for a club the size of Linfield that is never an acceptable excuse. The simple fact is that they have lost nine league games when Crusaders and Coleraine have only lost three between them.

For Gray, the only consistent thing about Cliftonville is their inconsistency, and the chance to end that cup hoodoo stretching back to 1979 is once again rearing its ugly head.

They now face a semi-final date with Loughgall, who enjoyed their moment in the sun, or snow, earlier in the month when they knocked out Glenavon.

Gray would probably have preferred to have been playing Coleraine as he hopes and prays that the good Cliftonville turns up in the semi, but the way this season has gone, who would bet against Loughgall playing Larne in the final?

And that brings us on to the Bannsiders, where the good times continue to roll. The last few days couldn't have gone much better for them, a defeat of Ballymena while Crusaders were turned over by Cliftonville and then seeing off Glentoran.

Good to see that common sense has prevailed and the semi-final against Larne (Ulster Cup Final 1987 memories aplenty in that one) will be played at the Ballymena Showgrounds, although given the state of the surface it will probably be in early August.

Slightly more of a surprise was the choice of The Oval for the other semi, I would have thought Mourneview Park would have been a better choice for size and atmosphere but at least it isn't at Windsor where you feel like a marble in a shoebox unless it is a Northern Ireland game.

So another remarkable night in an incredible season, the rollercoaster ride continues, who gets off victorious and unscathed at the end of it all remains to be seen, but there are already those in various shades of blue staggering about and feeling green.

Billy tackles... Reece Glendinning

It was quite a few days for Jamie McGonigle, a win for Coleraine over Ballymena United, Crusaders getting tanked by Cliftonville and a call-up to the Northern Ireland Under-21 squad.

More importantly than all that, he won last week’s predictions with a 2-1 victory and there’s more chance of Man City losing the Premier League than me catching the players up now.

Next up is Ards’ Reece Glendinning, who has already bagged two winning goals against Ballymena men this season so, let’s face it, the hat-trick isn’t far away!

The usual rules apply, he steers clear of his side’s clash with Coleraine, while it is three points for an exact scoreline and one for the correct outcome. All games at 3.00pm on Saturday.

Crusaders v Dungannon Swifts

You have to fancy Crusaders with the run they’ve been on, they’re scoring goals for fun and not conceding too many. I think they’ve learned from last season that coming into this stage of the season they can’t afford to lose many more games. Dungannon are a good side but I think Crusaders will have too much for them.

Glendinning prediction: 3-1

Weir prediction: 4-0

Linfield v Glentoran

I fancy Linfield after Tuesday night’s result because I don’t think another defeat would sit well at Windsor Park. The Glens were on a good run too, and I think it’ll be a tight one, but I’ll not say too much about that one! Ronnie McFall seems to have the Glens a bit more organised and resolute, but I think Linfield will have too much quality for them.

Glendinning prediction: 2-1

Weir prediction: 1-1

Glenavon v Ballinamallard United

We played Ballinamallard at the weekend and they actually played some good football but just don’t seem to have an end product. But Glenavon are very, very strong and with Mark Sykes in midfield and big Andrew Mitchell up front, I think they will run out easy winners on Saturday.

Glendinning prediction: 4-0

Weir prediction: 3-0

Carrick Rangers v Cliftonville

You have to fancy Cliftonville after the run they’ve been on in the past couple of weeks, but Carrick are becoming harder to beat. But the strike force Cliftonville have should be too much for Carrick and with Joe Gormley up top they will always score goals.

Glendinning prediction: 0-3

Weir prediction: 1-1

Ballymena Utd v Warrenpoint Town

I think Ballymena need to win to keep the pressure on Glentoran but you never know what you’re going to get from Warrenpoint either. We played them a couple of weeks ago and they were very good but then gave away three bad goals, but I think Ballymena need to win and Davy (Jeffrey) will have them up for it.

Glendinning prediction: 2-1

Weir prediction: 2-2

Season’s standings: Players 13 1/2

Weir 6 1/2

Out on the wing

Dykes takes flight from the Mallards

Ducking out: Gavin Dykes has resigned from Ballinamallard

The inevitable finally happened and Gavin Dykes called it a day as Ballinamallard United manager after a 4-0 home thumping by Ards.

 It was a shocking result and a sad way to end for one of the game’s gentlemen, a man who kept his dignity and sense of humour throughout an awful season.

 It is typical of the man that he stood aside to try and kickstart the Mallards into life acknowledging that, “I no longer could see any fight for me as manager.

“There are eight games left and a bounce for a new manager is the best chance of Ballinamallard staying up.

“I would love to see Ballinamallard get out of trouble and felt watching Saturday’s game that it was time for a different voice.”

I don’t think Sir Tom Jones or have the voice that could save them this season. Whoever takes over faces a massive job, but then again anyone who followed Whitey Anderson was always going to be in a no-win situation.

An El of a chance for young guns to shine

Glenavon's Bobby Burns.

It's great to see that no fewer than five Irish League players have been included in Northern Ireland Under-21 manager’s Ian Baraclough’s panel for the forthcoming European Championship qualifiers against Spain and Iceland.

Crusaders’ Gavin Whyte is joined by Glenavon duo Mark Sykes and Bobby Burns and Coleraine pair Jamie McGonigle and Ciaron Harkin, while two Derry City men in Jamie McDonagh and Conor McDermott are also in the squad.

Some will argue that it shows a dearth of talent available to the young men in green across the water but it is a fantastic opportunity for them to put themselves in the shop window and hopefully follow in the footsteps of one of their team-mates, former Linfield man Paul Smyth, who is in the panel and now plying his trade at Queens Park Rangers.

A quick look at the Spain squad shows that they have three Real Madrid players among their ranks, so nothing to be scared of there!

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