ST JAMES’ Swifts boss Barry Johnston feels Saturday’s Irish Cup opponents St Oliver Plunkett are one of the toughest draws his side could have gotten in round two of the competition.
The West Belfast neighbours clash at Lenadoon (kick-off 1.30pm) with a place in the third qualifying round at stake.
The Swifts are the early pacesetters in the Ballymena and Provincial Intermediate League and received a bye in the first round of the Irish Cup and they’ll be strongly fancied to progress to the next round.
Yet Plunkett accounted for a Rosemount Rec side who are a division above them in the Northern Amateur Football League in the last round and Johnston insists his side will take nothing for granted on Saturday.
“It is one of the toughest draws we could have gotten to be honest,” stated Johnston.
“St Oliver Plunkett are renowned for their never-say-die attitude and they are always up for big games.
“The fact that it is a local derby will give them even more of an incentive to go out and prove they belong to be playing against the likes of ourselves and Belfast Celtic.
“We’ll not underestimate them we know how good they are and we’ll be giving them the proper respect.”
Last season, the Swifts were invited into a scaled down version of the Irish Cup after reaching the semi-finals of the Intermediate Cup during the 2019-20 campaign.
However, a host of Championship teams withdrew from the competition including H&W Welders who were due to face St James’ in the first round.
Although they suffered a 2-0 loss to Dergview in the last 16, the experience of last season means Johnston’s side are keen to progress as far as they can in this year’s competition.
“It is right up there for us – we’d prioritise the Irish Cup and the Steels and Sons cup as the two big cup competitions,” said Johnson.
“We got to the last 16 last year because of how well we had done in the Intermediate Cup. It was a great experience for the players to get to that stage of the competition, albeit by default. The players enjoyed the buzz of being part of it and it is up to them now to try and go as far as we can in this year’s competition.”
The St James’ boss added: “Fra Nolan has missed the last four games after falling awkwardly in the game against Belfast Celtic.
“Ciaran Hyland has come into the team and scored a hat-trick at the weekend (against Wakehurst) so there is plenty of talent around St James’ at the moment. Mick Feerick came in and scored a goal too and they both came through the academy set-up. It is great to be able to call upon those players when you need them.
“It does give you a bit of a selection headache for this weekend, but it is a nice headache to have.”
Meanwhile, both Donegal Celtic and Wellington Rec have been thrown out of the Irish Cup following their abandoned first round tie.
The Challenge Cup Committee made its ruling earlier this month with Mossley FC progressing to the next round.
Colin Valley face a tough battle on Saturday when they travel to Ballymoney to take on Ballymena and Provincial Intermediate side Glebe Rangers while Immaculata are also on the road as they take on Ballynahinch Olympic.
Newington will be hoping to bounce back when they travel to Downshire YM following Tuesday night’s 4-0 defeat to Crusaders in the Co Antrim Shield at Seaview.
Paul Hamilton’s side were 1-0 down at the break following a goal from Brandon Doyle, but the Irish League side ran out convincing winners thanks to second half goals from Philip Lowry, Chris Hegarty and Jonny Frazer.
Elsewhere, Aquinas host Crewe United in what is a rematch of their recent Steel and Sons Cup clash from earlier this month. On that occasion, the Glenavy outfit claimed a 3-2 win, but John McCormick is hopeful his side can turn the tables at Rathmore this weekend.
“They are a very experience Intermediate team and this is only our third year as an Intermediate cup, but I felt we held our own,” said McCormick.
“We scored a good goal and they got a dubious penalty - a decision which could have gone either way. We gifted them two goals in the second half, but we rallied again.
“I was reasonably pleased. Crewe United are a good Intermediate good and they’ve great facilities and I felt we competed well with them.
“They’ll still go in as favourites. I certainly think we’ll give them a good game and, if we can get a few players back from injuries, I think we’ll be a lot closer than the last game.”
Fellow South Belfast side Rosario will also have home advantage for Saturday’s Irish Cup game as they welcome Lisburn Rangers to Ulidia (all games 1.30pm).