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Friday 31 Mar 2023
Underdogs hoping to have their day in Irish Cup last four

League form often goes out the window when it comes to cup encounters and both Ballymena United and Dungannon Swifts will be hoping that is very much the case in this weekend’s Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup semi-finals.

David Jeffrey’s Ballymena side, who have had a mixed season so far in the NIFL Premiership, face league leaders Larne at Seaview tonight (7.45 kick-off), while the Swifts are in action against Crusaders tomorrow in another all-Premiership affair.


On paper the men from Inver Park, who are hunting down a league and cup double, are the clear favourites ahead of the cup clash with the Braidmen, however Jeffrey and his players will have other ideas.

MORE: Ticket reminder for Irish Cup semi-final games

Not only have Ballymena performed well in the competition in recent years - they reached the semi-finals in 2021 and were losing finalists both in 2020 and last year - but they also knocked Larne out of the cup last season.

Apart from Ballymena’s cup pedigree to take into consideration, there’s also the small matter of it being a derby match. There have been plenty of tasty tussles between the Mid and East Antrim neighbours down the years.

Another factor is Jeffrey himself. The man knows how to win trophies. During his 17-year spell as Linfield boss he won 31 of them, including seven Irish Cups.


Larne manager Tiernan Lynch is taking nothing for granted as he prepares to face the underdogs, despite the fact his side have amassed 73 points in the league to date – they are also five points clear of nearest rivals Linfield – and Ballymena have notched up 32.

Larne, who were losing Irish Cup finalists in 2021, defeated Ballymena 3-0 away in the league back in February and last month they secured a 1-0 home victory against the Sky Blues in the NIFL Premiership.

However, Lynch told the media this week: “Last year Ballymena knocked us out of the cup, so it doesn't matter where you are in the league or about your last five results. It's a cup game and you have to be at your best to get something from it."

Dungannon Swifts have also had a mixed season and they will also be the underdogs when they face cup holders Crusaders at Lurgan’s Mourneview Park in the second semi-final tomorrow. The game is due to start at 12.15pm.

The Swifts have spent most of the season stuck towards the bottom of the table and Dean Shiels’ side currently sit second from bottom on 23 points.


By contrast Crusaders, under the guidance of long-serving boss Stephen Baxter, have been operating solidly throughout the campaign. They are currently fourth in the league (62 points).

Dungannon Swifts manager Dean Shiels is confident his team can bounce back from a heavy defeat to Linfield last Friday “because the motivation of playing in the semi-final of the Irish Cup is there for them”.

"We are one win away from playing in the biggest game in the country so I don't think the players will need too much motivation for that,” he told the media.

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter is not taking the underdogs lightly.

He pointed out: "It is important that we go in with our best foot forward. You only get one go at a cup semi-final. You are either in or you are out.


"There is not much I don't know about Dungannon. We know how they like to play and it is up to us to counteract that and work out a system of play that will get us the result."

Both matches are being streamed live on the BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport NI website

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