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World Cup 2018

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Full Time

Fearless Newry will savour bid to become giant killers, says Mullen

By Stuart McKinley

As the radio announced 'will play Newry City', the Showgrounds clubhouse erupted.

Linfield's name had been pulled out immediately before and excitement about an Irish Cup trip to Windsor Park filled the room.

While all around lost their heads, one man kept his cool - Darren Mullen, the border club's manager.

At first his feeling was one of dread rather than excitement.

Two previous meetings with the Blues were still fresh in his memory.

A 7-0 semi-final defeat in 2012 - just months before the club went out of business - and what Mullen described as a 'lesson' when they lost 6-0 in a pre-season friendly just over six months ago.

Now, though, the message that Mullen will give to his players before they step out onto the National Stadium pitch today for the biggest occasion since the club was reformed in 2013 is one of no fear.

His definition of fear is very different.

He isn't expecting an upset, but he knows that cup history is littered with them and his attitude is 'why not us?'

"When the draw was made I was the only one not jumping around and cheering," said Mullen.

"My thoughts were that we'd just drawn the Irish Cup holders and the defending league champions and what a daunting task that was going to be.

"Now I'm excited, I want us to go and enjoy it and more importantly to do ourselves justice because we have done well this season. People have said to me about fear, but there won't be any fear on my part. Fear is when you have no team and no players and I know what that feels like."

As they continue to rise phoenix-like after being wound up in the autumn of 2012, the reformed Newry City AFC are a rarity in senior football.

While there are big wage packets going around at Championship level these days, the Newry players will each pay a fiver for the privilege of taking on the Blues this afternoon.

"Mickey Keenan will collect £5 off every player before they're getting onto the bus - they won't be allowed on otherwise and they don't get into the dressing room for home matches without paying their fiver," said Mullen.

"It's good to see. There are plenty of players at our level picking up good money, but these guys have bought into what we are doing.

"They know the situation the club got into in the past and that can't happen again."

Irish League legend Keenan, the club's goalkeeping coach, and Mullen's assistant Raymond Byrne know all about big Irish Cup occasions at Windsor Park.

Both played in finals with Portadown and have winners' medals in the competition as well as lifting the Irish League title at Shamrock Park.

They, along with coaches Jervis McCaul and Gary Boyle, had responsibility for team matters this week while Mullen enjoyed a break in Barcelona.

"It was booked for next week, but we are in the Mid-Ulster Cup final against Glenavon so we had to reschedule it," he said.

"I was going to cancel altogether, but we went for it and it was good to get away.

"It took my mind off the game at least. It's non-stop at Newry, looking after things on and off the pitch. I'm in a no-win situation now though. If we win the other guys will claim all the credit and if we lose it will be my fault!"

A trip to the Nou Camp was part of Mullen's itinerary in Catalonia, so has he been inspired by spending some time in the same surroundings as Lionel Messi and co?

"I'll tell you after the match," he said with a smile, hoping to be smiling even more and being able to experience the joy this time when the quarter-final draw is made.

David Healy admits his side will need to resist a spirited challenge from the visitors.

"I watched them play Dergview and we've done our homework but they'll enjoy coming to Windsor Park and will fancy their chances of causing an upset," said Healy.

"The players are aware of how important the Irish Cup is to this club but if we are bang on it hopefully we can put ourselves in the quarter-finals."

Belfast Telegraph

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