Crumlin Star manager Sean Brown means no disrespect whatsoever to his forthcoming opponents when he says he was disappointed to draw Oxford United Stars in the fifth round of the Irish Cup.
It’s now the third successive time the Ardoyne outfit have reached the stage of local football’s top knockout tournament that sees the Danske Bank Premiership big guns enter the fray. Only a handful of teams from the amateur ranks reach the fifth round each year, so to have done it on three occasions in a row deserves plenty of credit.
In previous years, Brown’s boys have been rewarded with plum draws against Crusaders and Ballymena United respectively, but this year, they will have to navigate their way past NI Intermediate League opposition before they can even contemplate taking on one of Irish League football’s leading lights.
The Crumlin boss stated: “There is no point in lying about it… I was hoping to get a big team. Crumlin Star aren’t going to win the Irish Cup, so we want a big team, and a big day out.
“We really enjoyed the whole experience of the fifth round the last couple of seasons, especially against Crusaders. We ran them really close in that game, and Stephen Baxter came in to speak to us after it.
“Now we have to get past Oxford, and while we think that gives us a chance, they will obviously be thinking the same. We won’t be underestimating them.”
In Crumlin’s favour, aside from enjoying the home advantage, they will also take encouragement from the fact that in Trojans, they defeated another Intermediate League team in the Intermediate Cup a fortnight ago. It also won’t have gone unnoticed that Trojans have already beaten Oxford twice this season.
The biggest incentive of all will be that if they can beat Trojans, it will be the furthest that the club have ever gone in the Irish Cup.
But as Brown has said, his club certainly are not treating their passage through to round six as an inevitability.
“When we were playing Trojans, I noticed someone was recording the game, so they are obviously doing their homework on us,” he continued. “It’s important we treat them with the same amount of respect.”
Whichever of the two makes it through, Brown believes they will give a good account of themselves against any potential opponent, and that the magic of the cup is very much alive and well.
He said: “Do I think the gap between the big teams and the smaller ones is closing? Definitely. We went and beat Ballyclare Comrades in the last round of the Irish Cup and Albert Foundry ran the Welders close in the Steel & Sons Cup final. We have made the semis of the Steel and Sons Cup and Immaculata have made the final - so yes, we are getting there.”
The biggest concern of all for Brown is getting his hands on the Premier Division title for the first ever time in the club’s history. At present, Crumlin Star are in tenth place, nine points off league leaders Albert Foundry, but with five games in hand.
Regular cup progress has given Crumlin a fixture headache with every passing season, and although he accepts his side are likely to have another backlog to wade through at the end of the campaign, he is confident of seeing the job through this time around.
He added: “We don’t play in the league until the end of January… it is frustrating, when you end up playing Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, but Newington did it and won the league, and I believe we have the squad to do it too.”