Belfast Telegraph

Irish Cup Final: Glendinning Brothers up for Cup mission for Linfield

Glendinning boys are aiming to follow in dad Mark's footsteps but know they have a battle on their hands

By Graham Luney

Mark Glendinning has backed his sons Ross and Reece to come back stronger if they suffer the bitter experience of being left out of an Irish Cup final squad.

The brothers could be omitted from the Linfield squad by manager David Healy for the showpiece battle with Glenavon at Windsor Park on Saturday.

Reece has struggled to nail down a regular place in the Blues' first team this campaign despite making 33 appearances.

Goalkeeper Ross has been the first name on the Linfield team sheet 45 times this season and only one other player in Healy's squad - skipper Andrew Waterworth - has appeared more times in a Blues jersey this campaign (49).

But Gareth Deane is pushing hard for the starting slot against the Lurgan Blues and it would certainly be a magnificent seventh appearance of the season for the 21-year-old Lisburn lad who spent time at Queen's Park Rangers.

Throughout the boys' careers, dad Mark has always given them an honest assessment of their progress and, unfortunately, he cannot offer them any reassurance this week.

"My honest opinion is I don't think the boys will play on Saturday," said Irish League legend Mark, who lifted the Irish Cup with Bangor, Glenavon and Glentoran.

"I hope I'm wrong but the boys were left out of the team until the Glenavon league game last Saturday and they could miss out on this Saturday, as will other players. You can't take things for granted in this game and although Ross has had a good season the manager has a big call to make and he will pick what he believes is his best XI.

"They will keep improving, though, and come back stronger if they miss out this time."

Ross accepts he's got a fight on his hands to play in the decider, saying: "There is huge competition for places and we have a fantastic squad. Everyone knows you must perform or you'll be left out."

There's only one thing worse than being left out of an Irish Cup final squad as Mark, a left-back who scored 96 goals in his glittering career, knows very well. After appearing in EIGHT finals - or 10 if you count the two Bangor-Ards replays in 1993 - Mark can reflect on the emotions involved, adding: "If you lose it's the worst feeling in the world.

"But I've been fortunate to play in great teams with great players and you carry those memories with you when you retire.

"That Glenavon team of 1997 had players like Spike (Glenn Ferguson), Lee Doherty and Stevie McBride, real quality Irish League players.

"The Bangor victory in 1993 was special because it was the first time the club had won it. I scored the two equalisers in the first two games before Paul Byrne hit the winner in the third.

"I had come back from a cruciate ligament injury, played in the League Cup final against Coleraine and then to win the Irish Cup with Bangor was special."

Mark, who also won the Irish Cup with Glentoran in 2004, ran part of the Belfast Marathon yesterday with former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers to raise funds for the Northern Ireland Hospice.

The 46-year-old is committed to supporting the Hospice after the professional care they showed to his wife Mandy, who lost her battle with cancer on April 23, 2014 at the age of 51.

"Brendan is now ambassador for the Northern Ireland Hospice and I got talking to him about football, including the Irish League, and he's an absolute gentleman," added Mark.

"Mandy was as proud as punch of the boys and followed them everywhere, including a trip to Ibrox to watch Linfield play Rangers. The boys were her life and now football has been a good release for us. So many good friends rallied around us and we will always be grateful."

Chemotherapy treatment wasn't going to stop a proud mother making her way to Ballinamallard to watch her sons play together in Linfield colours for the first time and Ross adds: "The football has given us something to focus on and it has kept us going.

"I was in her belly when dad won his first Irish Cup with Bangor in '93. My mum delayed going to hospital until the day after the final!

"Mum was always a massive supporter. I work in the IT department just above the cancer ward at the City Hospital and I have seen the patients and what many of them are going through.

"There are a lot of people offering help and that's the comfort for everyone. The Northern Ireland Hospice staff were brilliant and we have helped raise money for them as a thank you."

Ross was a mascot at the 1997 final and after Glenavon conquered Cliftonville 1-0 he ended up sitting in the trophy with the blue and white ribbons around it.

"The atmosphere is unreal at Irish Cup finals and after watching them you want to be a part of it. It would be an honour," he said.

"After the 2012 win the board put on a free bar at Cooke Rugby Club and we had a big party. Guys like big Winkie (William Murphy) and Jim Ervin were there and the celebrations were fantastic."

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