The day has finally upon us and the Tennents Irish Cup Final between Crusaders and Ballinamallard United is set to take place at 2.30pm at The National Stadium. It has been billed as a David v Goliath battle but as anyone knows this game will be nothing like this as the two sides go into battle as equals.
Crusaders are looking to win the Irish Cup for only the fourth time in their history (1966-67 1967-68 & 2008-09 previously) and they go into the game having done all their homework on their Championship opponents. Everyone has heard how much respect Stephen Baxter has for both United manager Harry McConkey and his team and although a Championship team they will give Crusaders a tough game and they need to be prepared for that.
Expect to see a changed Crusaders team from the ones that played out the final games of the Premiership campaign as players who have recovered from injury and niggles come back into the reckoning. It has been a poor run of injuries Crusaders have had to suffer but it looks like it has cleared up just in time thanks to rest, rehab and physio Brian Strain. Most of the squad are available but the management team will keep the starting XI a top secret until the last moment so we all wait with bated breath for the team sheet. With places up for grabs training has been great and everyone looked in great spirits at the final session on Thursday night. It will certainly be a great occasion and hopefully we can win the trophy for the first time in 10 years but there is a lot of work to do.
Crusaders have reached the final after beating Glentoran ( H 4-1) Linfield ( A 2-1) Ballymena United (H 3-0) and Coleraine (N 2-0) . Any of these games could have been worthy of a Cup Final itself but Crusaders face that final hurdle and will go for it again.
Ballinamallard United of course as looking to win the competition for the first time and it will be stuff of fairy tales if it where to happen. The Championship team may not have had a great start to the season but they kept going and got it together in both the Championship and Cup resulting in a strong finish to the season and a Cup Final.
Ballinamallard United go into the game as underdogs but they will certainly be equals in Crusaders eyes as the sides kick off. Harry McConkey has done wonders with the Co. Fermanagh side and with experienced players in amongst the younger players anything could happen. Of course their captain Richard Clarke comes up against many of his old team mates for this one having had a very successful time at Crusaders but friendship will go out the window come 2.30pm for at least 90 minutes. Another player out to try and win will be goal keeper John Connolly who was in nets the last time Crusaders won the Irish Cup against Cliftonville.
Ballinamallard United have reached the final after beating PSNI (H 5-1) Carrick Rangers (h 1-0) Dungannon Swifts (A 2-2 Win on Pens) and Warrenpoint Town (N 0-0 Win on Pens) Ballinamallard United will feel they can go one better again but they know the opposition will think otherwise.