Bangor's free hit against Cliftonville in Co Antrim Shield: boss Lee Feeney

Cliftonville's Joe Gormley ruined Bangor's Co Antrim Shield dream last season. The sides meet again at Clandeboye Park
Brendan Crossan Co Antrim Shield: Bangor v Cliftonville (Tonight, Clandeboye Park, 7.45pm)

BANGOR boss Lee Feeney insists his players have a “free hit” against leading Irish Premiership outfit Cliftonville in tonight’s Co Antrim Shield opener at Clandeboye Park – and still has bitter memories of last season’s encounter with the Reds.

The Seasiders led their illustrious rivals 2-0 in a Shield quarter-final clash before Joe Gormley was thrust from the bench and won the game for the north Belfast men.

“We were 2-0 up with not long to go,” says Feeney, “and they brought on Joe Gormley – and Joe just ripped it up, scored a couple and won the game for them. But if we’re as competitive as in that game I’ll be happy.

“It’s a free hit for us because we’re not expected to win it.”

Still competing in the Premier Intermediate League – the third rung in local football - Bangor lost a two-legged promotion play-off to Knockbreda last season.

While the Seasiders have bitter memories of that defeat, Feeney says he has learned a lot from his first season in charge of the club.

“I got my eyes open in this league last season, especially with Bangor having a wee bit of a reputation as being a bigger club. We’re going to grounds who are probably not used to bigger clubs coming to them and it’s a big occasion for some of them – the likes of Moyola, Tobermore, Portstewart – it’s tough going because they raise their games and look forward to Bangor coming.

“But I’m used to that now. We’re only a couple of games into the season but they’re all tough tests.”

Feeney’s men have won three out of three – as have Ballymacash Rangers in the PIL – but the former Linfield striker has made some canny summer signings, including Cliftonville loanee Seanan Foster, who won’t feature against his parent club tonight.

“We were after Seanan for a while, as were a number of clubs, because he is a top player and we’re blessed to have him,” says Feeney.

“We’ve definitely worked hard over the summer. We lacked a bit of experience on the pitch last season; I don’t think we managed games well enough, we didn’t have experience in the right areas going away to some grounds.

“We didn’t turn enough losses into draws and enough draws into wins, but we’ve recruited well in the summer. We brought in experience in the right areas – we’ve an experienced keeper from Glenavon, James Taylor, and brought in defender John Boyle from Newry.”

Feeney will use tonight’s Shield clash to rotate members of his 24-man squad but maintains they will be competitive against their visitors to Clandeboye.

“It’s great to get a home tie against a club like Cliftonville,” says Feeney, now in his second season as Bangor boss.

“We’ll put a team out to be competitive but I’ve also got a 24-man squad and five or six of them aren’t match-fit yet and are coming back from injury. That’s what I’ll use this game for.

“I’ll rotate the squad and we’ll definitely be competitive as we can be. I’m sure Cliftonville will be the same – they’ve a game on Friday [against Glentoran] – and will want to give players minutes and keep them at game level.”

The tie of the round is undoubtedly Crusaders versus Linfield while Championship clubs Knockbreda and Newington will want to give a good account of themselves against Premiership sides Larne and Ballymena United, respectively.

Co Antrim Shield Round One fixtures (tonight, 7.45pm): Glentoran v Lisburn Distillery, Larne v Knockbreda, Dundela v Ballyclare Comrades, Ards v Queen’s University, Crusaders v Linfield, Newington v Ballymena United, Bangor v Cliftonville, H&W Welders v Carrick Rangers