Willowbank FC v St James’ Swifts; Saturday, 2pm Mallusk Playing Fields
WEST Belfast rivals Willowbank and St James’ Swifts will battle it out for the BDFL Premier Division title at Mallusk on Saturday afternoon.
The sides have been neck-and-neck all season and Willowbank have edged one point ahead going into the final game of the season.
The lead changed hands earlier this month when Willowbank claimed a thrilling 4-3 victory over Swifts and manager Declan McCrory is anticipating another cracking game this weekend.
“We have been behind the whole year – they have been leading the way but we always had a game or two in hand,” said McCrory.
“The last time we played them, they were in this situation. If they won that game, it was in their hands and they would have only needed a point. We overturned that and we are now one point ahead at the top of the table
“They would think that they are an attacking side as well so I’d say there will be goals at both ends.”
Despite knowing that a draw will be enough to see his side crowned league champions for the first time in their history, McCrory insists he is only focused on winning.
“You see it in professional football when they set up with banks of four and grind it out for a draw,” said McCrory.
“There is no doing that at this level, mistakes are too common.
“You just have to go out and go for it – our club knows no other way.
“From the kids right up, it is all about getting the ball up the pitch and trying to do damage at the other end.”
While a knee ligament injury has ruled McCrory’s younger brother and leading scorer Thomas out of Saturday’s game, the in-form Richard McAvoy is likely to lead the Willowbank attack having scored six goals in their last three outings.
For McCrory, clinching the league title would underpin the effort and commitment of club volunteers for the last decade.
“George McCabe is our chairman and he has been working in the Willowbank Youth Club since he was 20 and he is pushing 70 now,” added the Willowbank manager.
“When we started up in 2008, and it would put a mark on what we are doing at the club because it gives you an end product. A couple of years ago, we would have lost players to other clubs. Now, they want to stay and play for our first team so winning the league would be huge. We need this.”
St James’ Swifts chairman, Damien Lindsay, meanwhile, is hoping his side can bring an end to Willowbank’s unbeaten season and pip their rivals to the league title.
“Willowbank only need a draw and we have to win so we are the underdogs,” said Lindsay.
“We have to go for the win, we can’t sit back and defend and play for a draw. We know that Willowbank are a good team. It should be another ding-dong game.”
The advantage was with St James’ until that 4-3 defeat and Lindsay admits his side were fortunate not to lose by more than one goal on that occasion.
“I think the 4-3 game flattered us a bit to be honest,” added Lindsay.
“We scored a couple of goals late on. We could have ended up getting an equaliser, but that would have flattered us even more.
“We just have to win. It will come down to whoever wants it more on the day. The two teams are probably equal.
“They were probably hungrier for the last game because, if we had have won, it would have left seven clear. It was a must win game for them.”
Meanwhile, Sport and Leisure Swifts face a final-day decider against Bangor FC on Saturday.
The Glen Road Heights side are currently bottom on the Premier Intermediate League but will overhaul Bangor with a win at the Bangor Fuels Arena this weekend.
It remains unclear if the bottom side will suffer relegation as the licenses for the Intermediate league for next season have yet to be issued.
Elsewhere, defending champions Immaculata are through to the final of the Clarence Cup after a comfortable 3-0 win over Rathfern Rangers at Seaview last Friday Night.
Kevin Lawlor’s side now face 1st Bangor Old Boys in the final on Wednesday, May 10 as they seek to win the cup for the third year in succession.