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Friday 05 Jan 2018
A look ahead to Saturday's 16 games in the Irish Cup

In any given season Tennent's Irish Cup fifth round day is among the most eagerly anticipated, iconic dates on the football calendar.

For some clubs it comes hard on the heels of a busy festive period while, for others, it brings in the new year kicking and screaming either offering hope of redemption after a disappointing campaign thus far or providing fresh impetus in the search for silverware come the end of the season.

Throw into the mix some heavyweight clashes and a sprinkling of cup magic for the romantics among us and it's easy to see why so many look forward to this coming weekend.

When legends Glenn Ferguson and Dessie Dickson conducted the draw early last month they helped maintain this mystique with a number of ties to whet the appetite.

Surely no tie epitomises the magic of the cup more than the meeting of current Danske Bank Premiership leaders Crusaders and Maiden City, formed just 18 months ago, at Seaview?

Although Maiden City have existed for some time as a youth entity their adult section was only established in the summer of 2016 to complete the pathway for players coming through their ranks from as young as four.

Managed by Colm Cassidy, Maiden City have made quite an impact since joining the Northern Ireland Intermediate League last season. They finished mid-table in their initial campaign but this season they have already lifted the Craig Memorial Cup with victory over Portstewart on Boxing Day thanks to goals from Darren McCready and PJ Ward.

Speaking after that historic victory, Cassidy said: "In a year-and-a-half as an intermediate club we have the Craig Memorial trophy. It's great for the club, it's great for the players and puts us on the map.

"No-one knew who Maiden City was with regards to the intermediate team, but now they are starting to sit up and take notice of us."

But they face the might of a Crusaders side currently in the midst of an 18-game unbeaten run which has brought them to top spot in the Premiership, into the semi-finals of Scotland's IRN-BRU Cup following a defeat of Dundee United at Tannadice and secured a place in the last four of the BetMcLean League Cup.

Also in Belfast on Saturday are Ballymoney-based Glebe Rangers who face cup holders Linfield.

Having defeated Bangor, Rosemount Rec and Annagh United to get to this stage going head-to-head with David Healy's side in their own backyard will provide a formidable challenge for the Ballymena and Provincial League side.

The Blues, double winners last season, have stumbled in their league title defence but will be looking to the cup to kickstart their campaign, and with the arrivals this week of Kurtis Byrne and Achille Campion it's clear Linfield mean business.

Coleraine, cup runners-up in 2016-17, have had a remarkable season to date. Long time league leaders, Oran Kearney's side have won many friends with their style and honesty this term.

The Bannsiders host Colin McIlwaine's Lisburn Distillery at The Showgrounds. The Whites were top of the Premier Intermediate League for quite a while before faltering with a couple of defeats last month.

There are a couple of all-Premiership ties to savour, none more so at Solitude where Cliftonville host Warrenpoint Town.

Current Reds boss Barry Gray could have been forgiven for allowing himself a wry smile at that pairing considering he guided 'Point to a famous victory over Cliftonville at the same stage back in 2011 when they were still a third tier club.

The other top flight clash sees Carrick Rangers welcome Glenavon to the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena, having already lost twice to Gary Hamilton's side this season.

But Carrick boss David McAlinden has strengthened his panel this week with the arrivals of Damien McNulty and Brendan Glackin, and will be hoping they will tip the balance in Carrick's favour.

For those with an eye for a potential upset there will be some interest in Immaculata's journey to Ferney Park to face Ballinamallard United.

The Mallards are currently propping up the Premiership having won just once so far this campaign but boss Gavin Dykes signalled his intent for the remainder of the season with a quartet of signings this week, namely strikers Stephen O'Flynn and Sean Noble alongside defensive duo Michael Kerr and Packie Mailey.

Will it be too much for an Immaculata side that haven't tasted defeat over 90 minutes since August or will their team spirit and form see them through?

The full draw reads (kick-off 3pm unless stated):-

Ards v Crumlin Star
Ballinamallard United v Immaculata
Ballymena United v Moyola Park
Carrick Rangers v Glenavon
Cliftonville v Warrenpoint Town
Coleraine v Lisburn Distillery
Crusaders v Maiden City
Dungannon Swifts v Limavady United
Knockbreda v Institute (1:30pm)
Larne v Dergview
Linfield v Glebe Rangers
Loughgall v PSNI
Lurgan Celtic v Glentoran (1:30pm)
Newry City AFC v H&W Welders
Portadown v Ballyclare Comrades
Queen's University v Dundela (1:30pm)