Belfast Telegraph

This is our time to become legends, insists Gray

By Graham Luney

Barry Gray has called on his Cliftonville players to end 39 years of hurt and bring the Irish Cup back to Solitude.

The Reds fans have been waiting to get their hands on the top knockout prize in domestic football for almost four decades and the time has come for new heroes and legends to emerge.

A 3-2 win over Portadown in 1979 was Cliftonville's last Irish Cup glory moment and since then they have endured final agony against Glenavon in 1997, Crusaders in 2009 and Glentoran in 2013.

The Red Army feel their club can't shake off an Irish Cup curse but boss Gray plans to celebrate the club's ninth success in the prestigious tournament.

"It's amazing to think that Cliftonville haven't won the Irish Cup since 1979," said the former Warrenpoint Town chief.

"When you speak to anyone who can remember that occasion it's obvious that those players and that team earned legendary status, so the opportunity is now there for this side to become heroes like the 1979 team.

"The current squad isn't to blame for that long period when opportunities to win the Irish Cup were lost and for that reason there should be no pressure on our players and they don't need to right any wrong.

"But Cliftonville fans are quite staunch when it comes to the Irish Cup and the prize has become like a Holy Grail to them, so the players know that an opportunity to make a special bit of history for the club is there to be grasped. I really want the players to embrace that opportunity and you hope your big players step up to the plate."

If there's one man who Coleraine need to watch it's ace marksman Joe Gormley and the Ardoyne man has enjoyed a superb season despite coming under some criticism and also losing his place in the side earlier in the season.

"There was never a time when Joe's ability was being questioned," added Gray.

"Earlier in the season his form was a little inconsistent but so were other players' and when the team's form was up and down, individuals' form suffered too.

"Consistency has been a problem for us but Joe's partnership with Rory Donnelly has really developed and we've got to give both players huge credit for that.

"Rory is touching 30 assists for the season and while Joe has found the net more, Rory's contribution has been immense.

"The partnership has developed nicely and Joe is a humble guy who is not comfortable with taking all the praise. His finishing can be top class but he has fantastic players around him and sometimes it takes something special to win a game and we know Joe can produce that."

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