Belfast Telegraph

'Why can't we?': Queen's belief bolstered by Linfield shock ahead of Glentoran clash in Irish Cup

Queen's University's Jonah Mitchell celebrates his winner over Linfield.
Queen's University's Jonah Mitchell celebrates his winner over Linfield.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

If there is an ideal way to prepare for a rare clash with Glentoran, then Queen's University might just have uncovered it.

The Championship side pulled off a sizeable Irish Cup shock on Saturday when they humbled reigning Danske Bank Premiership champions Linfield at The Dub.

As a reward, they were drawn to face the Blues' big rivals Glentoran in the sixth round, again at their small home ground, which houses only 350 supporters.

On paper, there's only one winner, with the resurgent Glens currently on a run of just one defeat in 16 matches and mounting a challenge for the Irish League title.

But that won't put off Queen's boss Peter Thompson and his plucky side.

They'll approach this one the same way they did the last: Dream. Believe. Achieve.

"We have to believe," said Jonah Mitchell, who netted the winning penalty on Saturday afternoon. "If you've just beaten one of the biggest clubs in the country, why can't you go and beat the other one as well?"

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It's easy to greet his attitude with admiration tempered by a certainty that his side will be stopped in their tracks once they cross the white line.

But then, everybody thought the same when his manager Peter Thompson spoke of their 'one in 20' chance of success against Linfield.

"You go into every game at 0-0 and both teams have an equal chance of winning from there," continued Mitchell, his boss' defiant belief clearly having filtered through to his team. "We knew the quality that we had in our team as well as what Linfield had in theirs.

"Right from the goalkeeper through Matt McManus in defence to Ben Mulgrew in midfield, everybody was on their game and when that happened, we knew we had a chance."

That quiet confidence manifested itself in the opening goal, when Marc McKenna called the Linfield defence's bluff from outside the box.

"The two centre-backs just sort of parted, as if they were saying 'go on then, have a shot'," he explains. "I have scored a couple from outside the box this season so I hit it and luckily enough it was a good strike.

"A lot of my family were there watching so it was a fantastic moment."

Former Chesterfield youth player McKenna later revealed the boss' chief demand was that his players 'trust the process and stick to the plan'.

Their faith would have been best tested when Joel Cooper flicked home Linfield's 60th minute leveller to undo the hosts' 59 minutes of hard work.

Did Queen's still believe?

"We were just thinking that we had been in plenty of games like that before, where you surrender a lead and you have to push forward again," ponders Mitchell.

"I was a little bit surprised that we went to attack them again straight away. I thought we might have sat back those five yards deeper to maybe hold them out for another five or 10 minutes but attack really was our best form of defence."

That attitude allowed the hosts to earn what would be the winning penalty, slotted home by the son of former Blues player Philip.

"Dad was just delighted for me," says Mitchell, currently in his first year of a theology degree at Belfast Bible College. "He is one of my biggest supporters. Because he was at a few clubs, he doesn't really have any one big allegiance to Linfield or anything. I watched the Blues when I was younger but I'm the same, I've no allegiance to anyone but the club I'm playing for."

There's little time to sit back and admire their achievement, with the Glens game less than four weeks away.

"These are the games we want," added McKenna. "We could maybe say we wanted a team in a lower league than us for a good chance to reach the quarter-finals but we want to play the big teams. I don't think the Glens, or any team, would have wanted to come to The Dub after seeing what happened to Linfield.

"It was nice to show other people what we can do. We already knew and believed in ourselves but it was just great to show other people."

It will be the start of a busy few days for McKenna.

Bizarrely, he'll be up against Queen's just two days after playing for the Students against the Glens.

To be part of Queen's Irish League team, there is no required link to the university itself. McKenna, for example, is currently in his second year of a Sports Studies course at the University of Ulster, who he will next month represent against eight of his team-mates in the quarter-final of the Collingwood Cup, the principle university tournament in Ireland.

It's all part of the interesting fabric that makes up the Irish Cup's newest giant-killers.

Now who believes they can repeat their headline-making feat? They do, that's for sure.

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