Reds are buzzing ahead of Irish Cup showdown with Larne says in-form Hale

Cliftonville forward has been in fine scoring form since returning from injury

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Cliftonville Ronan Hale scores his second goal In today's game at the Solitude Cliftonville v Ballymena in the Sports Direct Premiership 12/1/2024 Pacemaker Press
Ronan Hale has been in fine scoring form, despite missing the first few months of the season through injury (Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker Press)
Clearer Water Irish Cup semi-final: Cliftonville v Larne (Saturday, 5.30pm, Windsor Park, live on BBC iPlayer and BBC NI Website)

Cliftonville front man Ronan Hale says the club is “buzzing” heading into Saturday afternoon’s Clearer Water Irish Cup semi-Final with Larne at Windsor Park.

The Belfast side are on a mission to end a 45-year wait for the coveted trophy they last won in 1979, and Hale can’t hide his excitement as kick-off time draws near.

“The place is buzzing this week; it’s going to be a great occasion.” He said.

“There are a few factors at play that adds to the occasion.

“The fact we have waited so long to win the trophy, the big crowd expected; and the fact it is at a big neutral venue all give the fixture the sense of something special.

“However, we know it is just a semi-final at this stage and it means nothing if we lose at this stage again.”

Despite missing the first three months of the season, Hale has exploded back into action for the Solitude side, scoring 13 goals in the process, including several stunning finishes. 

Alongside the league’s joint-top scorer Ben Wilson, they have formed a formidable partnership.

“I think if you look at the number of goals our club has scored this season in the league (73), any team will be wary of our threats.

“On a personal level I am happy with my goal return but as most strikers will say you always want a couple more, especially on the big stage and there is no bigger than Saturday at Windsor Park.” He added.

The Reds striker made a huge impact as Cliftonville got their Irish Cup run off to a winning start.

Hale scored a superb extra-time hat-trick to blow away Coleraine 3-0 in round five; this was followed by a 4-0 thrashing of Loughgall in the sixth round.

They gained another clean sheet in the last eight with a 2-0 win away to Portadown to set up this afternoon’s meeting with the Inver Park side, and Hale knows it will be no mean feat to claim victory.

“Larne are a strong side, no doubt about that,” the ex-Birmingham City U21 player said.

“They are league champions for a reason and are leading the way again, so we will certainly have respect for them.

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Portadown v Cliftonville Clearer Water Irish Cup
Portadown's Lee Chapman and Cliftonville's Rory Hale during this evening's game at Shamrock Park, Portadown.  Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Portadown's Lee Chapman and Cliftonville's Rory Hale during the Irish Cup quarter-final game at Shamrock Park, Portadown. Picture: David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press (David Maginnis/David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press)

“They have a number of boys who came from us, in Levi Ives, Chris Gallagher and Aaron Donnelly; and I obviously left Larne, so there is a fair bit of knowledge of each other between the sides.

“But once we are on the pitch, friendships go out the window for 90 minutes and it’s all about getting the win.”

Like Cliftonville, Tiernan Lynch’s Larne have had a relatively straightforward route to the last four.

A 4-1 win over H&W Welders was followed by a 5-0 hammering of Glenavon in the last 16, before Newington were comprehensively disposed of 4-1 in the quarter-finals.

Larne have never lifted the Irish Cup and would desperately love to add this to their rapidly growing trophy cabinet.

Striker Andy Ryan is up with Wilson as the league’s top scorer and Lee Bonis is not far behind.

They also have a superb defence, conceding only one league goal in 2024 and are undefeated in 17 games, highlighting the scale of the task at hand for Jim Magilton’s men.

Hale, however, is not daunted by the task and instead chooses to embrace it.

“These are the games you want to be a part of for sure.

“If you ask any player in the league if they would want to play a semi-final at a packed Windsor Park, they would bite your hand off and I’m no different.”