Loughgall boss ready to take down the Reds.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

LOUGHGALL boss Dean Smith believes his side can "match any team in the country on their day" as he looks forward to the Irish Cup semi final clash against Cliftonville this weekend, writes Tim Anderson.

The Villagers will take on the Premiership giants on Saturday at 3pm in The Oval, Belfast, in what will be their first Irish Cup semi final since 1997.

Smith has called on his side to take confidence from their cup run into the historic game this weekend, including their shock defeat of Glenavon in the quarters.

"As I've said many times, I genuinely believe my team can match any side in the country on their day, and we 've shown that already against Ards and Glenavon.

"The boys will take massive confidence from not only a fantastic result, but a fantastic performance against Glenavon last round.

"Much like the Glenavon game, we are very respectful of our top level opponents, and everyone knows Cliftonville's firepower could test any defence in the country." Following their opening round 4-1 victory against PSNI, the Championship side defeated the two Premiership sides 2-1 to book their semi-final spot.

Smith reflected on their run so far and revealed to the Courier what his pre match dressing room conversation will be based on.

"You know, it is a cup semi-final, and you don't play in one of them everyday.

"So for me, I'll be telling the boys, first and foremost, go out and enjoy yourself - that's the main factor.

"We will give it our best shot, and if we do lose, it wo n't be through a lack of trying and everybody can be extremely proud of what we've already achieved." Smith, who spent many successful years as a player at Loughgall, saluted the work of his players thus far, but had special praise for the unsung heroes at the club.

"In every club, there are people who work tirelessly behind the scenes, and in our case these people work voluntarily for their love of the club, and it would be fantastic recognition for them if we get to the final." The manager revealed their approach will remain similar to the two previous games against higher league opponents, but made it clear his side are worthy of a spot in the final four of the Cup.

"We 'll have a gameplan and tactics in place to combat their (Cliftonville) attacking threat with our own style of play, just like the quarters against Glenavon.

"But we've not had an easy run to the semi-final at all and I think we've shown everyone we absolutely deserve to be there." The former Annagh United manager - who took charge at Lakeview Park in November 2016 - pinpointed the Ards match as the game in which his players' self-belief was boosted, in turn raising their cup expectations.

"The performance against Ards gave us so much confidence and the boys believed we could beat anybody and go far in this competition.

"In my opinion though, the boys weren't given enough credit for their victory against Ards because the away side ended up with 8 men.

"But when it was 11 v 11 we were the better side and were controlling proceedings after they had opened the scoring early on." The Villagers go into the cup clash on the back of a 3-1 league victory over H&W Welders last weekend and Smith hopes they can use this game as a springboard for the remainder of the season.

"We go into the final with an added confidence after a deserved win against the Welders, and we were comfortable throughout." "In the league we've been very Jekyll and Hyde and that's very frustrating because we have such a talented group of players, like we've showcased in the cup run.

Whatever happens in the cup semi final, the manager has his goals set on eclipsing last year's league finish.

"Our job as coaches is to find that consistency and that's our goal for the rest of the season.

"We know we aren't going to challenge for top honours this season, butwe'll be trying our hardest to better last year's league position." "But, if we got to the club's first ever final, it would be an amazing achievement."

The winner of the semi-final will compete for top honours against either Coleraine or Larne at Windsor Park on 5th May 2018.


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