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Immaculata still aiming for the Star

Immaculata host St Luke’s in the last 16 of the Steel and Sons Cup on Saturday in what is a repeat of their 2017 Clarence Cup meeting, pictured above, when ‘The Mac’ claimed a 4-2 victory at The Cage Immaculata host St Luke’s in the last 16 of the Steel and Sons Cup on Saturday in what is a repeat of their 2017 Clarence Cup meeting, pictured above, when ‘The Mac’ claimed a 4-2 victory at The Cage
By Paddy Tierney

Co Antrim FA Steel and Sons Cup third round
Immaculata v St Luke’s (Saturday, 2.30pm, Grosvenor Recreation Centre)

THEIR crown as the best team in the amateur league may have long since passed to Crumlin Star, but Immaculata are determined to close the gap on their rivals this season.

The Mac will bid to reach the quarter-finals of the Steel and Sons Cup this weekend when they host St Luke’s in a West Belfast derby on Saturday.

A trophy-laden spell under former boss Kevin Lawlor saw Immaculata claim the 2016 Premier Division title and a hat-trick of Clarence Cups between 2015 and 2017 inclusive.

The rise of the Star as the dominant force at amateur level coincided with Lawlor’s departure from Immaculata and his successor Tony Heagney left the club prior to the start of this season.
Joe Graham took over the reins, but won’t be involved in Saturday’s fixture, as midfielder Colm O’Riordan explained.

“We didn’t get off to a good start with Tony Heagney leaving. We understand why he left, but it wasn’t a good start,” said O’Riordan.

“Joe Graham has come in, but he has stepped aside for a period for personal reasons as his father isn’t well.

“The players are still there and last week’s game was the first time we’ve had our full squad out.”

He added: “A couple of years ago we were the best team in the amateur league. Now, we are far down the pecking order. The players know that the standards aren’t good enough at the minute. We are aiming high and the next aim is Crumlin Star.

“Like most teams, we are way off their level. They are playing out of their skin and we can’t complain about what they are doing.

“Everybody wants to get to that level and we were at that level before. It will take time to get us back. Every team goes through blips, our blip seems to be more long-term at the minute.”

While ‘The Mac’ have their sights set on lowering Crumlin Star’s colours in the league, the Steel and Sons Cup takes centre stage this weekend.

With the final of the prestigious competition taking place on Christmas morning, the Steel and Sons ranks high on the list of priorities for most clubs.

“The Steel and Sons has always been up there for us,” stated O’Riordan.

“Obviously, the league is our top priority but, even at this early stage, it already looks like Crumlin Star’s to lose.

“Ever since Lawlor was our manager, we always set the Steel and Sons and the Intermediate Cups as competitions we wanted to do well at. That desire is still there.

“Every player wants to win it and we’ve never won it. For a lot of our players, it is getting towards the latter stages of our career. It is the one everyone wants to win.”

Immaculata, by virtue of their status as a Premier Division side, will be favourites, but a handful of suspensions could level the playing field with the quartet of Adrian Oliver, Dan Largey, Eddie Begley and Joe McElliott all ruled out.

“We’ve four suspensions on Saturday, so that will be tough for us,” added O’Riordan.

“We’ve a lot of good friends at St Luke’s and I am looking forward to playing against them, but it is always a hard match. It is a West Belfast derby and, no matter who you play from West Belfast, it will be a hard match.

“We’ve played them several times in recent years and it has never been an easy match.

“It is always a physical match, but after you can still go out and have a beer with them. We know they’ll be gunning for us and they’ll be confident. It would be a big scalp for them.”

While Immaculata have placed an onus on progressing to the last eight, St Luke’s manager David Munster concedes the Steel and Sons Cup isn’t the be all and end all for his side.

Instead, the Twinbrook outfit have set their sights on gained promotion from Division 1B and have made a solid start to their campaign, losing only one game in their opening six fixtures.

“To be honest, the Steel and Sons Cup isn’t high on our list of priorities. We see it as more of a bonus,” stated Munster.

“I think this is the furthest the club has been in this competition. We are more geared towards the league this year. We are trying to win the league or at least get promotion. Anything else in the cup competitions is a bonus.

“The Steel and Sons is a very big competition to play in and probably the biggest competition for teams like ourselves to play in.

“Realistically, it will be very tough for us, not just to win this round, but to win the competition. It is a good test for us to see where we are as a club.”

He added: “Our aim at the start of the year was to challenge for promotion.

“We brought in a lot of new young players at the start of the season. It was going to take a few weeks for us to gel together in the league. We’ve obviously had a couple of cup runs – we are in the last 16 of the Steel and Sons Cup and the last 16 of the Border Cup.

“The cup games have given the squad a chance to gel together and results over the last couple of weeks have improved.

“We were conceding a lot of goals at the start of the season whereas we’ve only conceded one in the last three.”

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