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Full Time

GAA skills are helping me dazzle for Cliftonville, insists Neeson

By Steven Beacom

Cliftonville goalkeeper Brian Neeson has revealed how his GAA background has helped him become a hit in the Irish League.

Neeson is honest enough to admit he has had some sticky moments in his first season with the Reds, but more often than not he has impressed, and last month produced a spectacular performance in a 1-1 draw at Crusaders, making several stunning saves against the side who would go on and become champions.

Coleraine will be hoping that the 28-year-old is not as inspired on Saturday when they face Cliftonville in the Tennent's Irish Cup final at Windsor Park.

Neeson has played in big GAA games for Antrim, as a forward, but insists this is the most important match of his soccer career which has seen him play for Knockbreda, Larne and Carrick before moving to Solitude last summer and becoming Barry's Gray first signing as boss.

"I've represented Antrim as high as I can in Gaelic and that was brilliant," said Neeson. "I found balancing both too hard and I just wanted to have a real good crack at football because I had not given it 100% before.

"I wanted to see what I could do, and I've done alright over the last couple of seasons and got a couple of good moves, and now I'm enjoying being at Cliftonville.

"With me being a smaller goalkeeper, I need to be as strong and as explosive as I can to make up for those extra couple of inches that bigger goalkeepers would have.

"And what I did with Antrim has helped me big time in the football. Training in Gaelic is more strength and conditioning and a lot more physical, and thankfully that has transferred over to good effect."

Ironically, one of Neeson's managers at Antrim was Liam Bradley, father of Coleraine striker Eoin, who he will be out to stop on the big day.

Working in north Belfast, the Cliftonville goalkeeper says the area is buzzing about the final and the chance for the Reds to win the Irish Cup for the first time in 39 years.

There has been much talk about fate and links between 1979 and 2018, with a female British Prime Minister in situ, the Pope visiting Ireland and the Reds defeating Linfield en route to the final in both years.

"A lot of the fans have been coming into work saying about all the things that go with this year's final and the last time the club won the Cup, but it is only true if it happens come May 5," said Neeson, who has no idea where his well known nickname 'Bam' comes from.

"Since I joined Cliftonville I have noticed a big step up in class in training and in facilities and the way they go about things.

"I think it's been a bit of a transition year for us but I think we have done reasonably well and know on our day no one will beat us.

"Coleraine have done unbelievably well this season but they could end up with nothing."

Neeson will be well supported on the day and would love to pick up a trophy for two special women - his wife Brighdin and his mum Patricia.

He added: "My mum goes to every match home and away. It would be nice to give her something back because she has been great throughout my career, going to all my games. My wife has been a great support too. I'd love to win it for them and just hope we get the result we want."

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