Cliftonville legend Marty Quinn has tipped the Reds to beat Covid-19 and bring the Irish Cup to Solitude for the first time in 41 years.
The north Belfast side’s title-winning former manager was part of the triumphant 1979 Cup-winning team and he knows the club’s fans are desperate for new heroes to adore.
The Danske Bank Premiership season was curtailed by the pandemic but the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup is set to be completed with Monday’s last-four games seeing Ballymena United face Coleraine before the Reds take on Glentoran at Windsor Park.
On the line is a place in the decider on Friday, July 31 when Paddy McLaughlin’s men hope to finally banish talk of a Solitude Irish Cup curse.
But Cliftonville have been dealt a blow by Irish FA disciplinary chiefs after their appeals against suspensions to defenders Garry Breen and Jamie Harney were rejected. Sky Blues boss David Jeffrey and Steven McCullough will also not be available against Coleraine.
Both clubs are seeking arbitration with the Irish FA, with a decision expected to be reached by Friday.
It’s not the smooth semi-final preparations either club wanted but Quinn (right), who also steered Coleraine to the glittering prize in 2003, still has a feeling this is Cliftonville’s year.
“1979 is 41 years ago, time flies by and I can still remember it so well,” he said. “People have talked about a curse but it’s about getting the preparation right and the players giving their all. Paddy has a different attitude and he’s a great motivator and organiser. I just think they are capable of winning it this year. I don’t see why this can’t be Cliftonville’s year.”
Quinn added: "I feel they have the right man to take them forward and I fancy them to go on and win it.
"In 1979 they won the County Antrim Shield as well and we have done that again so the omens are good.
"The Cliftonville fans are desperate to get what they call that Irish Cup hoodoo out of the way.
"Paddy's done a fantastic job and the team is playing a good brand of football. He's kept the momentum going and got the top men delivering. But it's very unfortunate the lads have been suspended for the game, that was very disappointing to hear, you feel for the lads and it could leave the team a bit light at the back."
As Reds chief, Quinn lost a decider to Glenavon in 1997 and saw his team reach the final in 1999 only to be disqualified after fielding young striker Simon Gribben, who it later transpired was ineligible, having played for a junior side in an earlier round.
Although not involved in the modern game, Quinn enjoys the banter at Solitude when he pays a visit with his pals from 1979, Eamonn Largey and Peter McCusker.
"What I have learned this year is that football is nothing without the fans," added Quinn.
"Supporters drive the players on and improve the standards.
"People need to appreciate our game more. The final may have very few fans at it and that's strange in an 18,000 seater stadium. I feel you could let in a few thousand but that's for the Irish FA and NI Executive to decide.
"I understand all the health measures need to be taken but you could get 4,000 in there and give the game an atmosphere.
"It's not going to be easy for the players. There's been very little football played since March and Glentoran, with their full-time set-up, may have a slight advantage but the Reds are more than capable of winning it. The other derby game could be very close but I'd give Coleraine the edge."
The disappointment felt over the semi-final suspensions is a distraction both Cliftonville and United could have done without.
The clubs feel the bans would have already been served but for Covid-19 lockdown and should no longer apply.
Reds chairman Gerard Lawlor stated: "While we respect the Appeals Board and their role, we strongly disagree with their interpretation of straightforward rules.
"This action is being taken along with a number of other clubs who have supported and contacted us today. I believe this ruling affects over 330 players at all levels within Northern Ireland, which is the equivalent of 30 teams sitting out games whenever we get the go-ahead to resume playing.
"We have worked with the Irish FA to get the matter dealt with quickly and hopefully it will not impact on any semi-finals due to take place next week."