Institute manager Paul Kee admits he was impressed - but not surprised - by Crumlin Star after they pushed them to the limit in a pulsating Coca-Cola Intermediate Cup clash on Saturday.
The Amateur League side even managed to pull themselves back from a goal behind to take an early second half lead over their Championship One visitors, but thanks to a Stevie O’Flynn hat-trick, the upset didn’t materialise.
Nevertheless, Kee believes Star are a side to look out for, both now and in the future.
He said: “They are a very successful junior club, and we knew what to expect.
“We knew they did well against Crusaders in the Irish Cup, we knew they have been doing well in the Amateur League, and we knew they got to the semi-final of the Steel & Sons Cup.
“It’s easy to see why they have done so well. They are formidable opponents, with good team spirit, and they work hard for each other - if you could bottle that, you’d make a lot of money. They have a great committee too.”
The current holders of the Intermediate Cup are desperate to reach a third successive final, but Kee reckons they will have their work cut out to even reach the last eight.
Standing in their way of doing so are the progressive Newbuildings United, who Kee already knows very well.
The Institute boss continued: “It’s a similar idea with Newbuildings as it was with Crumlin - we already know they are a good side because they beat us on penalties in the Senior Cup this season.
“Like Crumlin, they have a great community spirit. It’s going to be a tough, cutting edge game, but these are the sort of games you want to have if you want to be competing.
“This has been a good competition to us over the last couple of years, and we’d like to keep that going for as long as possible.”
Stute are, of course, still in the running for league honours, poised just three points of top two Carrick Rangers and Bangor.
And while some might see the Intermediate Cup as an unwelcome distraction, Kee prefers to think of the competition as a way to keep his players hungry and vibrant.
He added: “It does no harm at all, in fact, if you are still in it, it means you have a game on a Saturday.
“There are players coming to training twice a week, and it’s no good for them if they don’t have a match to look forward to, so long may it continue.”