Football/Soccer

I would take an Irish Cup over league medal: Cliftonville's Chris Curran

Chris Curran has praised the strength of the current Cliftonville squad

Samuel Gelston's Irish Whiskey? Irish Cup semi-final: Cliftonville v Crusaders (tonight, 7.45pm, Windsor Park)

CLIFTONVILLE captain Chris Curran says he would gladly choose an Irish Cup winner’s medal over the league championship this season as the north Belfast club try to end a 43-year wait for the coveted silverware.

The Reds are still chasing a dream treble having already annexed the League Cup this season and are within striking distance of league leaders Linfield in the title race.

Tonight, the Reds hope to reach their second Irish Cup final in four years when they face-off against neighbours Crusaders at Windsor Park, having finished runners-up to Coleraine in 2018.

The Irish Cup is the only honour Curran hasn’t won since joining Cliftonville in 2014. In his first season, he pocketed a league winner’s medal and has won League Cups and Co Antrim Shields during his time at Solitude.

“For me, the Irish Cup is the one I’d like to win more than any other,” Curran said. “That’s the only thing I haven’t won and I know how much it would mean to the supporters.”

The Cavan man has bitter memories of their 3-1 loss to Coleraine in the cup final four years ago.

In 2009 and 2013, the Reds also finished Irish Cup runners-up to Crusaders and Glentoran, respectively.

Paddy McLaughlin’s players are constantly reminded by the Reds faithful about the importance of winning the competition – the club’s equivalent to the Holy Grail – with the Spirit of ’79 casting a long shadow over Solitude.

But Curran insists the team isn’t weighed down by the club’s failure to win the premier competition for so long.

“There is an awareness out there that it is a huge competition for the supporters. Even though we’re doing so well in the league it’s the one the supporters want.

“I always look forward to it every year; I don’t see it as a burden. It’s not pressure – more hope and excitement.”

Cliftonville have beaten Islandmagee, Carrick Rangers and Coleraine to reach tonight’s semi-final, while Crusaders knocked out Glenavon, Ballinamallard United and Dungannon Swifts.

Cliftonville have undoubtedly been the story of the season with their surprise ascension rivalling the successes of Tommy Breslin’s back-to-back league-winning side of 2013 and ’14 that boasted Liam Boyce, Georgie McMullan, Ronan and Chris Scannell and Marc Smyth.

Following the glory years under their late manager, no-one imagined the north Belfast club would get back to challenging on all fronts so soon again.

After three years in the job, Curran believes McLaughlin has built a squad that would compare favourably with Breslin’s legends.

“It hasn’t been an overnight thing, it’s been a work-in-progress, a body of work since Paddy’s come in,” the captain said.

“Slowly but surely you start to realise he’s getting those pieces of the jigsaw and he’s putting it all together and now there is a serious squad around you. It’s one piece at a time.

“He didn’t come in and dismantle the squad and overhaul everything. I feel this squad is up there with the league-winning squads of 2013 and ‘14.

“When you compare it to the special group that we had in 2014, I would say this squad is as strong; we probably don’t have the individualism like we had in Liam Boyce back then, but this is a really special group and they’re really good people too, so it’s a good time to be at the club.”

Ironically, it was tonight’s opponents Crusaders who knocked Cliftonville off their perch and won back-to-back league titles themselves in 2015 and ’16.

Regarded as a route-one team, manager Stephen Baxter has tweaked Crusaders’ style in recent seasons but they haven’t managed to keep up with Linfield, Cliftonville and Glentoran who occupy the top three spots in the Danske Bank Premiership.

“I suppose every team has their cycle. Crusaders had a special few years and it was just their time. They were a machine and they deservedly had that period of success and dominance. It was a tough task trying to get points off them but you never feared them because on our day we could always beat them.”

Curran added: “Over the last few years it’s been pretty even. I think Crusaders have evolved a bit. They still have that ability to be direct and dangerous on the counter, but they’re playing more now.

“They have Ben Kennedy who I think is a special player and makes them play. They’ve also brought the likes of Jude Winchester in so I don’t think they have the same style as they had five or six years ago but they’re still a formidable opponent because now they can mix it up and are playing through the lines more.”

 

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Football/Soccer