Belfast Telegraph

Mulgrew is still haunted by the ghosts of 2016 misery

By Graham Luney

The golden rule for a footballer is never to look beyond the next challenge - glare too far into the future and a lack of focus torpedoes your immediate goals.

But ever since last season's Irish Cup final when Glenavon outfought and outmanoeuvred a strangely lacklustre Linfield team - cruising to a 2-0 victory in the May showpiece - the Blues players have known they need to right the wrong.

To have a chance of exorcising that ghost, they must return to the final this season and that means overcoming Dungannon Swifts at Mourneview Park in the first of the two Tennent's Irish Cup semi-finals on Saturday (3pm).

It's hard to find another club with a greater thirst to win this glittering prize. Linfield haven't won the trophy since 2012 and their non-appearance in last year's decider, when Andy Hall and Kevin Braniff netted for the Lurgan Blues, was inexplicable.

With Gary Hamilton's side in the other last-four battle with Coleraine, a repeat of last year's showpiece is possible and revenge really would taste sweet.

The Blues, however, must take care of business in Lurgan this weekend and they shouldn't underestimate the Swifts, who are gunning for their first appearance in the final since 2007 when they lost a penalty shoot-out to Linfield.

Current Swifts boss Rodney McAree was a heartbroken skipper on that occasion but he hopes to have the last laugh on Saturday.

The big problem he has is that Linfield are on a mission to make amends for the horror show a year ago and the players, including skipper Jamie Mulgrew and winger Paul Smyth, aren't prepared to disguise that fact.

"In light of what happened last season in the Irish Cup final when we lost to Glenavon, we have unfinished business in that competition," admitted Mulgrew.

"It's well documented that we let ourselves and the club down. The Cup game is massive but it's important we perform in all the matches we have remaining in both the league and Cup."

Smyth, whose first taste of an Irish Cup decider was a painful one, added: "Last year's final was very disappointing because we have shown we can battle against top sides.

"The defeat by Glenavon last May was devastating as the boys weren't on their game and nine times out of 10 we would have won but in the Irish League any side is capable of reaching the final and winning it.

"You've got to perform on the day and we didn't but if we can make the final again I believe we can go on and win it.

"The league and Cup double is still on and we will challenge for every trophy, we have a good mentality to push on and win things. We know we have the players to do it. I'd love to win the double but we'll take it game by game."

Now that Crusaders' Premiership lead has been cut to four points, the double is still on for the Blues and the players, including Smyth, are looking hungry.

Mulgrew, the only Linfield player in the current side who can reflect on that 2007 Irish Cup final against the Swifts, added: "I think everyone can see how good a player Paul is and it's clear he has the qualities to play at a higher level. He was unfortunate to pick up a metatarsal injury but he's approaching full fitness and in the last few weeks he has performed very well.

"He is a big part of our team but he is still learning the game and can only get better. He is in the right place for that to happen and with David Healy as the manager he will receive the right guidance and encouragement.

"David had the experience of playing across the water and he can pass on that knowledge to Paul and other players."

Smyth's stay at Windsor Park may be short but he wants to pocket an Irish Cup winner's medal before relishing a new adventure.

  • Linfield v Dungannon Sw, Tennent's Irish Cup semi-final: Mourneview Park, Saturday, 3.00pm

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