Cliftonville's title-winning former manager Marty Quinn insists there is no ‘hoodoo’ hanging over the Reds in the Irish Cup as he opens up about his memories of the blue riband trophy.
Saturday should have been Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup Final day but, due to Covid-19, the competition was put on hold at the Semi-Final stage.
Cliftonville, Ballymena United, Glentoran and Coleraine are the last four vying for Cup glory and Quinn, who was part of the victorious 1979 Cup-winning team, felt this could be the year for the Reds.
As manager of the north Belfast side, Quinn lost a decider to Glenavon in 1997 and saw his team reach the Final in 1999 — which should have been played 21 years ago yesterday — only to be disqualified after fielding young striker Simon Gribben, who it later transpired was ineligible, having played for a junior side in an earlier round.
Quinn left Solitude for the Coleraine Showgrounds soon after and went on to win the Irish Cup with the Bannsiders in 2003, but the memory of that ’99 Cup Final that never was still haunts him.
“The 1999 Irish Cup Final — the Simon Gribben affair — broke me as a manager,” he recalls.
“It took me a long time to get over that, but it was probably the right decision.
“I remember we were playing Linfield in the Semi-Finals and we had a depleted team.
“Chris Scannell was coming through the ranks and I brought him along as a sub for the game against the Blues.
“Wee Tommy McCallion gave it his all against Winkie Murphy, but we needed a change and I decided to send Simon on and not Chris because I felt we needed more physicality against Winkie.
“Then news broke that Simon had played in a previous round of the Irish Cup for his local side, Kilmore Rec.
“We were due to play Portadown in the Final but, under the rules of the competition, we were disqualified and Portadown were awarded the Cup.
“Simon made the mistake and to this day I believe him when he says he didn’t know he had broken the rules.”
Two years prior, Cliftonville faced off against Glenavon at Windsor Park but were beaten 1-0 by the Lurgan Blues.
“The Irish Cup is a big thing, a very prestigious trophy, but in 1997 we failed miserably against Glenavon,” adds Quinn.
“We were brutal on the day and I made mistakes in the build-up to the Final.
“We had lads from Dublin and Scotland in the squad — Shaun Strang, Gary Sliney, Ian Hill, Barry O’Connor — and Mickey Donnelly said to me, ‘Why not stay together in a hotel the night before the game?’
“So I spoke to the chairman, he said, ‘Good idea, let’s do it’ and we did it, but it wasn’t right and it changed everything.
“Whether it was sleeping in strange beds or a different routine I’m not sure, but something wasn’t right and we weren’t right on the day.
“By the time kick-off came around, we weren’t mentally prepared properly and Tony Grant got the only goal of the game for Glenavon to win it.”
It’s now 41 years since Cliftonville last captured the Irish Cup. They’ve reached the decider five times since then but have failed to capture the famous trophy again.
“There is no hoodoo whatsoever, at least there certainly wasn’t in my time at the club. It’s just about what happens on the day,” sighs Quinn. “Cliftonville have reached, I think, four Irish Cup Finals since we won it in 1979 and we have all failed miserably since.
“There is no curse as far as I am concerned — possibly excuses, but no curse. It wasn’t the case with me in 1997. Get on with the game, that’s what I believe.”
Quinn was part of the fabled ’79 Cliftonville team that beat Portadown 3-2, coming from a goal down to snatch it with a last-gasp winner from Tony Bell.
The former centre-half recalls the day well and insists another Irish Cup success is overdue for the north Belfast club.
“My memories are very clear about the ’79 Cup Final,” he says.
“We met up in the morning at the Chimney Corner Hotel, had brunch together and got on the bus to Windsor, which went down the Antrim Road.
“I remember all the fans and all the flags, the carnival atmosphere. When we got to Windsor, we said to ourselves, ‘We can’t let those people down’.
“Jackie Hutton had us very well organised on the day and, although we made a bad start to the game, we just about deserved it in the end.
“It’s about time Cliftonville won it again and I thought this could have been their year.
“When we won the Irish Cup in ’79, we also won the County Antrim Shield, which Cliftonville have also done this year.
“Paddy (McLaughlin) has done a great job and has his players firing. I don’t know if the Cup will be played out this season or not, but I thought the Reds had a great chance of winning it.”