Local boy Darren King dreaming of an Irish Cup final appearance with Newry City

Darren King (foreground) disappointed after Glentoran took the lead in their Irish Cup quarter-final. The Glens were later ejected from the competition after playing an ineligible player
Darren King (foreground) disappointed after Glentoran took the lead in their Irish Cup quarter-final. The Glens were later ejected from the competition after playing an ineligible player

Samuel Gelston’s Irish Whiskey Irish Cup semi-final: Newry City AFC v Ballymena United (tonight, Mourneview Park, 7.45pm)

REGARDLESS of how Newry City’s memorable season ends, ageless defender Darren King insists it will go down as the best of his career as the Co Down men prepare for tonight’s delayed Irish Cup semi-final with Ballymena United at Mourneview Park.

Darren Mullen’s side, who are the cusp of returning to senior football, were handed a cup reprieve after quarter-final opponents Glentoran fielded an ineligible player – Joe Crowe – in their March 5 clash at the Oval.

Having scraped a 1-0 win, Glentoran’s long drawn-out appeal was rejected by the Irish FA and Newry were eventually restored to this season’s competition, with Crusaders patiently awaiting the winners of tonight’s semi-final.

As they awaited their cup fate, Newry were engaged in an intriguing title race in the Championship and will be declared league champions at home to Dergview on Saturday as they have a much superior goal difference to nearest challengers Annagh United.

“There’s no doubt this has been my best season,” said the long-serving King.

“I’ve been promoted in different seasons and been relegated in others. I’ve been in cup finals with Newry before, but just the whole feeling around the club has made this season the best.

“For me, it’s not about winning medals, it’s about the people involved in it. The bond between the players and fans has been incredible.

“Our supporters were always that 12th man this season. We don’t win as a group of players – we win as a club. And the Irish Cup is giving everybody associated with the club a day out and hopefully we can go one better.”

Mullen has assembled a very attack-minded, pacey outfit over the course of the season with strikers John McGovern and James Teelan proving a match for any defence they encounter.

“There is no fear in this team,” said King, affectionately known as ‘Engine’ around the Showgrounds.

“In terms of what I’ve experienced in football this is such a tight-knit group of players; everybody is pulling together, we just want to play for one another and play for the club, and that’s hard to beat.

“This game is a free dig for us,” added the 36-year-old.

“Any time a Premiership team is up against a Championship team the pressure is always going to be on the Premiership team. We know on our day that we can give anybody a game. We’ve also been okay with the delay with this semi-final because the league was competitive right up to now.

“If the league was over three or four weeks ago it would have been difficult managing that time before an Irish Cup semi-final.

“This game is not like a ‘David and Goliath’, the way it would be against Linfield, Glentoran or Cliftonville but we can’t underestimate a Premiership opponent.

“Warrenpoint Town beat them a couple of weeks ago and we’d be looking at that thinking we put Warrenpoint out of the cup. We know on our day we can trouble anybody. We’ll approach it with a good positive attitude and hopefully we perform on the night.”

The club’s one-off commemorative strip – a dashing pink colour to acknowledge the ceaseless work of the Southern Area Hospice – has only been worn in this season’s Irish Cup, with kit manager Dorothy Taylor hoping and praying that she has the task of washing and preparing it for the May 7 showpiece final.

“It’s every footballer’s dream to play in an Irish Cup final,” said King, who finished a runner-up with Newry in the 2009 League Cup final against Portadown.

“I know it’s one game at a time, but if we were to get there it would be the first time Newry ever reached an Irish Cup final. For the community and Newry as a city, imagine having a team in the Irish Cup final.”

Newry’s 3-0 win over H&W Welders last Tuesday night and Annagh United’s scoreless draw away to Dergview on the same evening effectively clinched the Championship title and promotion with two games remaining.

Newry last won promotion to the Irish Premiership in 2018 but suffered relegation at end of that same season.

“If you don’t want to be playing against the best, you shouldn’t be playing football," King said. "We’ll relish the challenge and we feel we’re in a better position than we were when we went up the last time in terms of squad and squad depth. That year's experience when we went up and came straight back down will stand to us next season.”