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Windsor's empty but my glass is half full...

Liam Beckett


Windsor Park

With no supporters and an 18,000 all-seater stadium all but empty, it's going to be pretty surreal, but at least at long last we'll have live football back and that's got to be great news for all fans of the Irish League.

The Irish Cup will always have a place in my heart having been fortunate enough to have won it twice, so every time the competition comes around, it always triggers special memories for me as it is quite simply the biggest and most memorable day out in our game - although this year it's going to be pretty low key and very different by comparison.

Normally the crowds alone are massive, while the incessant media coverage, buzz and razzmatazz which precedes the Final seems to last for weeks.

Unfortunately, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year's Semis and the decider itself will be considerably more quiet and in many ways strange without the atmosphere we always associate with big games in Northern Ireland.

I had kind of hoped that by now, and especially after Thursday's government announcement regarding fans being allowed back into sporting occasions, we could have facilitated some fans inside the stadium to see the action at all three of this week's matches.

Although the Irish Football Association have ruled out supporters attending tomorrow's games, proper supervision should see a crowd permitted to attend Friday's Final.

As to which teams will be there, that's a tough shout.

Cup clashes are so different to League games in that this is a one-off opportunity to get to a major Final, European qualification and, who knows, even get to hoist football's most prestigious knockout trophy above your head.

Of the four teams still in the hunt, I honestly feel all of them are more than capable of going the full distance and, believe me, I'm not sitting on the fence when I say that.

I can speak from experience on this subject because, luckily enough, I've been there and done it, so I know first-hand what Semi-Finals and Finals are like - they are definitely not for the faint-hearted.

It's disappointing that two of the competing teams - Ballymena and Cliftonville - have had to wait until the 11th hour to hear the outcome of their appeals against a number of suspensions.

I fully understand those with the view that all offenders must see out their punishment like anyone else, but in normal circumstances these particular bans would have been served long ago.

One person who will definitely be on duty, however, is me.

I'll be working at both games and, although it's not ideal, at least it's a start.

Belfast Telegraph