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Gary Smyth and David Rainey out to conquer old Glen's friends


Harland & Wolff Welders boss Gary Smyth and striker David Rainey are plotting the downfall of their former club, Glenavon

Harland & Wolff Welders boss Gary Smyth and striker David Rainey are plotting the downfall of their former club, Glenavon

Harland & Wolff Welders boss Gary Smyth and striker David Rainey are plotting the downfall of their former club, Glenavon

It will be friends reunited at Tillysburn tomorrow - but only after the battle is over. Irish Cup holders Glenavon have two very good reasons to fear H&W Welders - Gary Smyth and David Rainey. The Irish League legends are not only Mourneview Park old boys. They know all about the romance of this special knockout competition.

Welders boss Smyth has an astonishing Irish Cup record. He's played in seven Irish Cup finals, won four, lost three and they all finished 1-0.

"I'll take another 1-0 on Saturday," jokes the former centre-back who won the prize with Glenavon in 1997, Glentoran in 2001 and 2004 and Crusaders in 2009.

Smyth was one of Glenavon's 11 special guests for last year's final against Ballymena United but given his pride at once donning the Sky Blues captain's armband, it was always going to be a day of mixed emotions for him.

Even so, Glenavon's victory brought the golden memories flooding back. Smyth helped the Lurgan Blues make three finals on the spin from 1996. Glentoran sunk them twice but the Lurgan men managed to record a triumph over Cliftonville in the 1997 decider.

"I guess the fans were spoilt in those days and it was a 16-year wait for the next final," he adds.

"It was an incredible achievement for a club outside of Belfast's Big Two to make it to three finals in a row. We had strong teams with guys like Ray McCoy, Stevie McBride, Spike (Glenn Ferguson), Tony Grant, Dermot O'Neill and Paul Byrne. We were capable of beating anyone and looking back it's disappointing we didn't win a league title."

But Smyth's Cup final memories aren't restricted to Glenavon's fairytales.

"Each cup final win has it's own special significance," he says. "The first one (1997) means a lot and the win for Glentoran over Linfield in the first Big Two final in 16 years, back in 2001 when Michael Halliday scored the winner in extra-time, is also memorable. Then you have Crusaders winning it for the first time in 41 years in 2009."

Smyth is joined on the Welders coaching staff by Ian Dornan and Alan Nixon, brothers of two of the Irish League's legendary right-backs, Alan Dornan and Colin Nixon.

The romance of this great competition will be in the air at the home of the east-Belfast minnows tomorrow, with the game kicking off at 1.30pm.

"It's a brilliant occasion for the club and me personally," adds Smyth. "Glenavon are my old club and the Cup holders. We lost the Steel and Sons Cup final to Carrick Rangers but the boys have won five games in a row so there is nothing wrong with their confidence."

Another man gunning for his former employer is Rainey, who is today named BT Sport Player of the Month in the Belfast Telegraph Championship.

Rainey has three Irish Cup winner's medals, one with Glentoran from 2000, Crusaders in 2009 and Glenavon last season. He was an unused substitute in the 2000 final when Glentoran beat Portadown and again last May but that simply meant his energy levels were sufficiently high enough to enjoy the post-match party.

"The celebrations were fantastic but I can't go into too much detail," says Rainey, who turns 39 in April.

"A few houses had been rented for the night and we ended up in a big house and some cottages in Moira.

"We had a party until the sun came out but a few of the boys spun out the celebrations for three days, I managed two. But you must enjoy moments like that. They are few and far between for a lot of us.

"Glenavon still have a place in my heart and the fans were great to me. I'm a player who gives 100 per cent and I don't think I let anyone down.

"You never like to dump an old team out but you want to make the next round."

And there's still life in this old dog. Players like Rainey never lose their appetite for the game.

"I'm loving it," he says. "Big Smicker (Gary Smyth) is there who I played with and against for many years.

"The guys down there are a good bunch of fellas and it was easy to settle in. Playing regular football and scoring the odd goal, I can't ask for much more.

"Gary is Mr Laidback but he does take his football seriously like we all do. When game time comes it's serious business. I've been lucky to work with nice managers but they must also be prepared to lay down the law when they have to. As a player you want your managers to interact with you like that."

Rainey didn't want to face Glenavon, just as he didn't want to confront Crusaders in the semi-finals last year, and he'll always be grateful to Lurgan Blues boss Gary Hamilton for showing faith in him.

"I got to play another year in the Premiership and winning the Irish Cup was the icing on the cake," he says.

Meanwhile, Smyth wants Glentoran at home in the quarter-finals.

A man with his Irish Cup record is allowed to dream.

Belfast Telegraph