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Full Time

Loughgall can make history to reach Irish Cup final: Smith

By Graham Luney

Loughgall manager Dean Smith has backed his side to make history and steer the club to their first ever Irish Cup final.

The Championship side lost to Cliftonville at the last-four stage of the competition in the 1996/97 season but this time they hope to stun the north Belfast men at The Oval tomorrow.

Confidence is high in the Loughgall camp after victories over PSNI, Ards and Glenavon with only Barry Gray’s men standing between them and a dream final appearance at Windsor Park on May 5.

The odds are stacked against the boys from Lakeview Park but Smith says his side can make history.

“Cliftonville are expected to get to the final but our boys have a chance to make history,” said Smith.

“This season it has been all about making history for the club and we have never beaten two Premiership teams in the competition.

“Ards and Glenavon have been beaten en route to the semi-finals so why don’t we keep rewriting the history books by getting to the final?

“It’s a massive task but shocks can happen and we will work tremendously hard to give ourselves a chance.”

With Larne taking on Premiership title challengers Coleraine at the Ballymena Showgrounds in the other semi-final tomorrow, an all-Championship final remains a possibility.

All the pressure is on the top-flight sides to show their class but they can be sure the underdogs will put in a ferocious challenge.

“I think everyone outside our camp believes that Cliftonville will win the game, and I’m sure the Reds fans believe that too, but we will give it our best shot and there is no pressure on us,” added Smith. “If we lose the game it will not be through lack of effort.

“We have experienced players in our side like goalkeeper Gareth Buchanan, Ricky Copeland and Gary Liggett.

“Gary came in during the January transfer window and he has been a fantastic addition, bringing his goals and experience to the team.

“The players don’t need me to tell them what they are capable of. We put in a fantastic performance against Glenavon and I don’t feel we got enough credit in the win over Ards. The boys have taken a huge amount of belief and confidence from those games.”

A key player for Loughgall is skipper Steven Ferguson, who spent a few years in Leeds United’s professional ranks.

“He has a great attitude and engine and he brings a massive amount of experience to the team as well as helping to guide the younger players,” added Smith.

“There are no big changes in how we will approach the game. We will do a bit more work on shape but the lads have worked hard in training and we are looking forward to it.”

Reds boss Barry Gray said: “Beating Loughgall will be no easy task but we are in good shape going into the semi-final. The players should be confident and ready for what is a massive match for everyone involved with the club.”

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