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Saturday 04 May 2024
PREVIEW | Reds v Blues clash set to be an epic occasion

It’s a game that has been 90 years in the making and it has the potential to be an absolute belter.

Today’s Clearer Water Irish Cup Final pits Cliftonville against Linfield at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park (2.30pm kick-off).

Remarkably, given that the Blues have won the cup a record 44 times in their history and Cliftonville have lifted it on eight occasions, it will be the first time the two Belfast teams have met each other in the Irish Cup decider in 90 years.

Both sides have had strong seasons. Linfield have already won the Bet McLean NIFL League Cup and finished runners-up in the league, while Cliftonville finished third in the NIFL Premiership and have secured European football for next season.

The two managers, the Reds’ Jim Magilton and the Blues’ David Healy, were international team-mates and are good friends, however that friendship will be on hold in Belfast today in front of a sold-out stadium.

WATCH | The Boots Are Off - Jim Magilton v David Healy 

The north Belfast outfit go into the showpiece match against Linfield with it being well documented that they have not won the trophy since 1979. 

In the matchday programme Magilton, who was on Liverpool’s books for many years and played in the English Premier League for Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday before managing Ipswich Town and Queens Park Rangers, points out that he respects Cliftonville’s history but is unfazed by the demand from the fans for an Irish Cup success.

“I understand the history, I understand how important it is and I understand how there is this magic around the Irish Cup for Cliftonville,” says Magilton, who was appointed Reds boss last summer. 

“We get it. It is there for everyone to see and everyone talks about it but I am more focused on these lads creating their own little piece of history. 

“It was a great achievement by that Cliftonville team to win the Irish Cup back in 1979 but I see this as a wonderful opportunity to play against an excellent team in a showcase final.

“I want us to go and embrace the whole thing. Rather than let it intimidate you, let it inspire and motivate you. I have never been one to allow that sort of thing to intimidate me.” 

Healy, who was appointed manager of Linfield in October 2015, is hungry for more silverware and is looking forward to the occasion.

In his short management career he has already won five league titles, two Irish Cups and two League Cups - he achieved the domestic treble in the 2016-2017 season - and he is relishing the opportunity to add to his haul.

In the matchday programme he says: “My players will be finely tuned, fired up and ready to go.” 

And he adds: “Form and previous games against Cliftonville will certainly not matter. It will be all on the day. The cup final is a great day and everyone is looking forward to it.”

Healy, who earned 95 caps and scored 36 goals for his country during a playing career which started at Manchester United and saw him star for Preston North End, Leeds United, Fulham, Sunderland and Rangers among others, is looking forward to pitting his wits against Magilton in front of just over 15,000 spectators.

He points out: “I've worked with Jim, played with Jim and know the type of character he is - he was always going to demand the highest standards and he has certainly got that. 

“Cliftonville are in the final again and everybody knows Cliftonville haven't won the Irish Cup in such a long time, so they're going to be desperate to go and put that right.” 

Some of the best players in the Irish League will be gracing the National Stadium turf today, including Northern Ireland Football Writers’ player of the year Kyle McClean and his canny Linfield midfield partner Chris Shields and the Hale brothers, Ronan and Rory, who are highly influential for the Reds up front and in the engine room respectively.

Experienced operators like Cliftonville defender Jonny Addis and Reds striker Joe Gormley and Linfield attacker Joel Cooper and Blues winger Kirk Millar could also have a major say in who lifts the trophy this year. 

The Clearer Water Irish Cup Final is being broadcast live on BBC Two Northern Ireland, BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport NI website. And there will be audio coverage on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio Ulster.