Belfast Telegraph

Irish Cup boost for Larne as rich list backer Kenny flies in for semi

 

By Jim Gracey

Rejuvenated Larne will have the personal backing of their Rich List benefactor Kenny Bruce in Saturday's Tennent's Irish Cup semi-final clash against double chasing Coleraine.

Purplebricks online estate agency co-founder Bruce will fly in from his English Midlands HQ to support his home town team in their bid to reach a first Irish Cup final since 2005.

Championship bottom half team Larne will start as underdogs against the Premier title contenders.

But after shocking Ballymena United on their home ground in the quarter-final, Bruce will be hoping to witness the club he has transformed now turn the tables on Coleraine in the same way his company took on the might of the traditional High Street estate agency business and scored a huge financial success with their online selling revolution.

At the weekend, Bruce (42) and business partner brother Michael (44) were revealed as the highest new entrants in the Sunday Times Rich List for Ireland with an estimated joint wealth of £190m.

Bruce has pledged £5m of his own money to make Larne a football force in Northern Ireland with promotion to the Premier League an avowed target for next season.

Saturday's semi-final appearance is the first significant return on his investment in the club and team which has been boosted by an influx of new players since he came on board earlier this season.

And last night Larne chairman Gareth Clements, who joined the club at the request of his lifelong pal, confirmed Bruce would be breaking off from a busy business schedule to fly in for the Coleraine game.

"Kenny is heavily committed business-wise as you would expect of someone in his position," said Clements, an area manager for a major food distribution company.

"But he has been determined to get here for the semi-final and now he has managed to find a way. He is also bringing 22 of his company staff who have bought their own tickets."

Clements also paid tribute to Bruce for his contribution to the club, including a planned redevelopment of their Inver Park ground.

"Kenny has re-invigorated the club and the town," Clements affirmed.

"A year ago, no-one associated with Larne could have forseen what has taken place here since he became involved.

"We've gone from less than 100 watching our games to taking over 800 to the Cup quarter-final on a Tuesday night."

Clements added: “It all came about through two of our former players, Sammy Smyth and Graham McConnell, getting in touch with Kenny and asking him if he would help out his home town club who were down on their luck.

“Coincidentally, he had been looking for a project that would make a difference to the town and liked the sound of their proposition.

“His vision is for the club to become a hub of the community. We now have youth and womens teams affiliated and are hopeful our plans for the ground redevelopment will start to take shape soon. Talks with the council, who own the ground, are at an advanced stage.

“There is a buzz about the club and the town, a real feeling that we are going places, and we will be taking another big crowd back to Ballymena for the semi-final.

“Our manager and his players will be under no illusions about the task they face against a Coleraine side challenging for the Premier League title.

“But Kenny has shown what can be achieved from small beginnings and we take our lead from that.”

The Larne team will again follow the pre-match routine of their quarter-final win over Ballymena with a light pasta dish and team meeting at the Ross Park Hotel at Kells, followed by a coach ride to the Showgrounds, another major departure from a year ago.

Belfast Telegraph

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