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David Jeffrey: Irish Cup magic is as strong as ever despite coronavirus crisis

 

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Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey

Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey

Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey

The 2019-2020 Irish Cup may be concluded in surreal circumstances while the country battles the Covid-19 pandemic this week, but Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey says the competition's magic has not been dimmed one bit.

Today's semi-finals - Ballymena United v Coleraine (4pm) and Cliftonville v Glentoran (8pm) - will be played at Windsor Park with no fans allowed in.

The finalists will each be given 250 tickets for the decider at the National Stadium on Friday but, despite the eerie atmosphere at a venue that holds crowds of more than 10,000 on Cup Final day, the prize on offer for the four teams is as alluring as ever.

As well as Irish Cup success, which the Sky Blues haven't tasted in 31 years, there is a Europa League spot for three sides to net, with the Bannsiders having already qualified through a runner-up finish in the Premiership.

Jeffrey, who won seven Irish Cups during his time at Linfield, says anyone who thinks Covid-19 has taken some of the shine off the trophy this year couldn't be more wrong.

"I'm 57-years-old and you never know how long anyone can be a part of this game and be given an opportunity to win something," said Jeffrey, who will be on the sidelines after United and Cliftonville won appeals against their semi-finals bans.

"You count these situations as a blessing and opportunity and that's the long and short of it. We don't make any rash claims, but you give your best because you want to be successful. If your best is good enough, then great, if it's not, so be it.

"It's not just about fulfilling a fixture and the prize is unbelievable. Never mind simply winning the Irish Cup, qualification for Europe can be secured and, ironically, this time last year we had got ourselves through to the second round in Europe which had never been done in the club's history before so they are big prizes."

Belfast Telegraph