Captain's Column

Captain’s Column

SKIPPER Stephen O’Donnell acknowledges the importance of this weekend’s Irish Cup semi-final but believes the Bannsiders are more than capable of reaching the showpiece final for a third successive year…

It’s a big week for our season. There’s no getting away from that. An Irish Cup final would mean so much to us as a group, to the club and to you as fans. So let’s embrace it, let’s not shy away from the excitement and the anticipation. Let’s take that responsibility and run with it. Lets go into Saturday full of positivity and belief that this is our Cup and this is the next big step in retaining it, we must win at all costs.

Last Saturday wasn’t the performance or the result we wanted leading into this week. That’s not good enough. That’s not acceptable and anything like that level and Saturday just won’t happen for us. Simple as that. Stute played well and credit to them, but we made it easy for them. The blame for that lies with all of us, myself included. The players who played did not perform at the level they’re capable of, but players like myself who were on four bookings, gave the manager a tough decision to make and that shouldn’t be the case. Picking up poor bookings throughout the season always comes back to haunt you at some stage and that was Saturday for me and some of the boys. That result last week has given us a wake up call that we need to do more. We need to ensure that level of performance is gone and is in no danger of being repeated anytime soon.

The manager has given everyone the opportunity to stake a claim to play on Saturday and we must take it upon ourselves to ensure that we are in the team. Last Saturday won’t have helped his thoughts on picking a team, but training this week has been sharp and the boys are chomping at the bit for the weekend. There is a hunger in our group to be successful together and Saturday gives us the opportunity to get one step closer to that.

Saturday has all the makings of a great cup tie. The games between us over the last 18 months have been close and eventful. They know a lot about us and we know a lot about them. We have won on two of the three occasions we have played Crusaders this season and hopefully Saturday can be another one. They are a good side and although we know a lot about them, they have the ability to mix it up. David Cushley has been in fine form this season, but with Heatley coming back to full fitness in time for this game, it will be interesting to see who partners Owens up top. Again we know Owens can be a handful on his day and that will be up to us to stop him and the attacking threat they possess.

For us, it’s about being positive and going to win the game. When we play quickly through the lines of the pitch and get our attacking players high up the pitch, we are more than a match for anyone. When we move the ball quickly and take fewer touches on the ball, we can break on teams with real pace and quality. That must be on show if we are to go through on Saturday. However, if we slow the game down, if we don’t move the ball quickly then Crusaders will be well enough organised to get behind the ball and make it difficult for us. So if we focus on ourselves and adopt an attacking approach from the outset. I’m more than confident that we can win the game.

The kick off time has met some discontent amongst supporters and other people outside the club. For us, it’s no problem. Half five or three o’clock, The Oval or Mourneview Park. We don’t care what time or where it is. All we care about is getting into another Irish Cup final and this is a fantastic opportunity to do that. I don’t need to remind you how much this game means to the town. We all seen the effect, the levels of support and the party we had last year on reaching an Irish Cup final. Let’s make sure that together we reach that again. Let’s make sure that on Saturday the atmosphere in The Oval replicates that brilliant day at the Ballymena Showgrounds in last year’s semi final. Let’s make sure that we are celebrating together at the end of the game. Let’s go and get ourselves into an Irish Cup together.

This week the club have donated a signed shirt to the fundraising efforts of the Oxford Bulls. They are a local club for me and the work that they do with young people with disabilities is fantastic. Me and some of the boys have been down to see them first hand on a number of occasions and they are an inspirational group. We took the Irish Cup down last year and have even played a few matches along the way. So for the club to get behind their fundraising is another testament to how special our club is. They immediately said yes when it was mentioned and we all wish the Bulls well in their efforts to reach their target. Good luck lads, keep up the brilliant work!

Finally, this weekend is as big as they come. This is a big opportunity to reward you as fans for what’s been an inconsistent league campaign, with a fantastic day out and an Irish Cup final. Let’s all come together and show the full might of the Blue and White army. Let’s go and win the game together!

C’mon the Bannsiders!

Stephen O’Donnell