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Craig Cathcart's FA Cup final date would crown a season to remember


Flying high: Craig Catchcart has an FA Cup semi-final with Watford and Euro 2016 with
Northern Ireland

Flying high: Craig Catchcart has an FA Cup semi-final with Watford and Euro 2016 with Northern Ireland

Getty Images

Quique Sanchez Flores

Quique Sanchez Flores

Getty Images

Flying high: Craig Catchcart has an FA Cup semi-final with Watford and Euro 2016 with Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland defender Craig Cathcart is relishing the prospect of making his first appearance at Wembley in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final for Watford against Crystal Palace.

While tomorrow night's clash between Everton and Manchester United at the same stage of the competition may be the focus for most, fans of the Hornets and Eagles have their eyes on only one weekend fixture.

The last time Palace made it to the final was in 1990. You have to go back six years earlier for Watford's previous appearance in the Cup showpiece.

In those days the FA Cup was a bigger deal than it is now, though to Cathcart Sunday's game will mean everything.

He has had an excellent season for club - helping Watford secure their place in the Premier League - and country and wants to climax it with FA Cup glory before travelling to France with Northern Ireland for the Euro 2016 finals.

Out of all Michael O'Neill's players, with the FA Cup final on May 21, Cathcart may have the least time between his club campaign and joining up with the international squad for pre-Euro 2016 friendlies.

He won't mind one little bit.

"After getting promoted last season, leading up to this pre-season I was thinking if we got Premier League safety with Watford and qualified for the Euros as well, it would be a dream campaign.

"On top of that we have enjoyed a great FA Cup run and are now in the semi-finals," said Cathcart.

"In the quarter-finals not many gave us a chance when we were drawn away to Arsenal, but we played really well on the day to get the win and you could see what it meant to our fans.

"Everyone at Watford, from the players to the fans, are looking forward to Wembley. I didn't manage to play the last time we were there, I was on the bench, so hopefully I'll get a run out against Palace and we can get a good result.

"They are there on merit just like us. I think it is a 50/50 game and both sides will be relishing playing at Wembley.

"We have nothing to lose. I'm sure Palace are thinking the same way but I don't see why we can't get a win and you never know what might happen in the final if we can get there."

After a superb start to the season, Watford's form of late has been patchy leading to suggestions that the future of manager Quique Sánchez Flores is in doubt.

That seems harsh given that Watford were one of the favourites for relegation at the start of the season, having won promotion just months before and he has led them to 12th in the Premier League table and the last four of the FA Cup.

Cathcart says he sees similarities in Flores (left) and Northern Ireland's successful boss O'Neill.

"They're both tactically very good. Every game we go into for Watford and Northern Ireland we have a gameplan and we know all about the other team, what their strengths are, who their key players are.

"In that sense they are very similar," said the former Manchester United and Blackpool defender.

"They are similar characters, both very approachable, you can speak to them and they're quite relaxed around the training pitch. They compare in many ways, a lot of them are positive things."

For the record the last Northern Ireland man to win in the FA Cup final was goalkeeper Roy Carroll when he came off the bench for Manchester United in their victory over Millwall in 2004.

In the year that the country will be going to a first major tournament in 30 years it would be fitting if Cathcart, whose family will travel over from Belfast to Wembley, could claim a cup winners' medal and bridge another gap.


C Palace

FA Cup semi-final:

Wembley, Sunday, 4.00 pm

Belfast Telegraph