The number of intermediate clubs vying for Irish Cup glory may have been drastically reduced this season, however the potential for several David v Goliath clashes in the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup remains.
The premier cup competition’s fifth round traditionally sees the 24 senior teams from the NIFL Premiership and NIFL Championship join with eight intermediate clubs, and those clubs normally reach that stage after four gruelling rounds featuring more than 100 teams.
This season, of course, things are a little different. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Irish Football Association’s Challenge Cup Committee has decided to scale back the competition. And that means the fifth round - with its 32 teams - becomes the first round.
And the draw for the Round of 32 takes place later today (Thursday 18 December) at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
The eight intermediate clubs involved – Dollingstown, Newington, St James’ Swifts and Belfast Celtic (all Intermediate Cup semi-finalists in 2020) along with PSNI, Portstewart, Bangor and Banbridge Town (ranked highest in league pyramid last season) – will no doubt be looking for a glamour tie against one of the high flying Premiership sides.
For some of the struggling Premiership clubs it represents a route to silverware this season, while the top dogs will have their eyes firmly set on a league and cup double.
Cup holders Glentoran, who have had an indifferent start to their league campaign, would love to get their hands on the trophy again, while Ballymena United, who were narrowly beaten by the Glens in the 2020 final, will be aiming to go one better.
Larne, reigning league champions Linfield and Crusaders, who currently occupy the top three positions in the Premiership, will be keen to keep battling on all fronts, while those already entangled in the relegation mire will see it as respite from that particular arduous battle.
Championship teams will undoubtedly be a tad rusty when the Round of 32 of the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup comes around on Saturday 9 January 2021.
They have been attempting to get into competitive action for some time without success, however 2 January is now the proposed date when their league kicks off for the 2020-21 season. And it’s the same for NIFL Premier Intermediate League clubs, who make up the bulk of the intermediate clubs in the Round of 32 draw.
Given that scenario the Davids of the Premiership might well be rubbing their hands with glee if they get a Championship side or intermediate side in the draw. But then again it’s cup football and anything can happen.
The Round of 32 draw is being streamed live today on the BBC Sport NI website (5.30pm kick-off).