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McFall’s looking to cement legacy

He's Northern Ireland football’s answer to Sir Alex Ferguson. And like the Manchester United boss he’s not finished yet. Not as a manager and not, he hopes, as a winner.

Recent rumours of Ferguson’s impending departure were grossly exaggerated. There is no such speculation surrounding McFall. He is just 12 months into a five-year contract.

And that means chasing more silverware to add to the four league titles and three Irish Cups that he has led Portadown to since 1990 — the only manager to bring a major trophy to Shamrock Park.

Evening up that count with a fourth Irish Cup is the aim, as the Ports prepare for a cup final battle with newly crowned champions Linfield at Windsor Park this afternoon.

If Linfield think they had it tough last season, as they failed to win a trophy, they should spare a thought for the Ports. Yes, the Co-operative Insurance Cup ended up at Shamrock Park, but they had to endure nearly 10 months playing in intermediate football — the consequence of their application for the inaugural Irish FA Premiership being lodged a matter of minutes after the deadline.

A lesser man would have thrown his head up and the towel in, but McFall is made of stronger stuff than that and walking out on his hometown club, a club that his heart and soul have been put into for the last 24 years, was never contemplated.

“I still have a hunger and a desire to be successful and I have never lost my love for the game — it’s in the blood,” said McFall, who keeps his age a closely guarded secret, but he isn’t a lot younger than 68-year-old Ferguson.

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“When you do lose that it’s time to get out, but I’ve never felt like that.

“I’ve never grown tired of spending the summer going out and trying to bring the best players to the club, in fact I thrive on that, it drives me.

“I wouldn’t say that I considered quitting when we were put down to the Championship this time two years ago, but there were times during that season when all of us were starting to think ‘what the hell are we doing here’ when we were spending Saturday afternoons going to places that we never thought we’d end up in. We had to get on with it though, we’d no option and we’ve now come out the other side of it.”

An Irish Cup final was the furthest thing from the minds of Portadown players and fans alike, as well as McFall, as they battled to return to the top flight — which was only secured on the last day of the season with victory over Donegal Celtic.

The only player who didn’t stay at the club was enigmatic striker Andy Smith, but while the Ports walk out at Windsor Park today, the bleach-blonde former international will be wondering what might have been, after the Shamrock Park men beat his Ballymena United side in the semi-finals.

“The players did all we asked of them last season. All our focus had to be on getting promotion and the Co-operative Insurance Cup was a bonus,” said McFall, who insists that victory wasn’t a metaphorical two-fingers at those who refused to allow the Ports a by-ball and entry to the Premiership.

“The players fully merit this reward of getting to the Irish Cup final and I hope they are rewarded fully by going on to win it,” he said.

“They deserve it, there’s no doubt about that as far as I am concerned.”

McFall isn’t contemplating any other outcome — even if his team have to go to Linfield’s home ground to take on the Blues.

“It’s the best stadium in the country, it’s the international stadium and it has the best facilities so it’s an obvious choice for a final,” said McFall.

“Having to go and play Linfield on their own pitch doesn’t cause us any concerns.

“We’ve been there plenty of times before and we’ve played well there earlier this season when we could have beaten them.”

The Ports have the class to beat the champions. In David Miskelly they have a goalkeeper who is among the best in the league, Darren Kelly, Richard Clarke and Wesley Boyle have class and guile, but one man stands above them — and Kevin Braniff will fully deserve the international cap he is set to win later this month as part of the Northern Ireland squad that travels to America and Chile for two friendlies.

“There is no doubt that he is quality. He has no peers in Irish football,” said McFall.

“This final will hold no fears for him. He has played in the second tier of English football and played in the quarter-final of the FA Cup for Millwall the season they got to the final.”

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