One Fermanagh village will be well represented in the Irish Cup final tomorrow (Saturday).
Glenavon will field two Belcoo men in their starting 11 when they look to capture the biggest cup in Northern Irish soccer against Ballymena United.
League veteran Shane McCabe will be playing in his second cup final while James McGrath will be hoping to be a reliable last line of defence in what will be without doubt the biggest soccer game of his career to date.
The well travelled McCabe has played for five of the current 12 teams who compete in the IFA Premiership in the shape of Ballinamallard, Dungannon Swifts, Glentoran, Portadown and now Glenavon. He won a league title and CIS cup with Glentoran but lost an Irish Cup final with Dungannon.
Since his return to Irish League soccer after 18 months with the Fermanagh senior football team McCabe has played a major role in the cracking season that Glenavon have been enjoying. McCabe was signed to the Lurgan club by Gary Hamilton, the player manager at Glenavon. The pair played together at Glentoran and Hamilton knew the quality he was getting when he signed the 31 year old. and McCabe has been enjoying his time to date.
“It has been great and it would be nice to get the Cup to round off a good season. It is the biggest day in Irish League football and there will be a big support there for both teams and hopefully we can do the business on the day.”
And turning his attention to his fellow Belcoo man McCabe explained that McGrath has been in super form.
“He has been doing brilliantly to be fair to him. He was man of the match in the semi final and he has grown into the role ever since he came and if he produces another good performance then no doubt we will be a long way toward getting the job done.”
For McCabe this might not be the swansong just yet as the soon to be 32 year old McCabe believes there might just be a few more years left in the legs.
“I know the wife wants me to play on,” he said, laughing, “she wants me out of the house and I think I might just have two more years left in me but we will have to see. It definitely gets older when you reach your 30’s.”
For James McGrath the 30’s are a long way off yet. He came into the Glenavon side midway through the season and his story is a real ‘Roy of the Rovers’ tale. In fact the Saturday before he got the call to join up with the Lurgan Blues he had been the hero for Lisbellaw in the last 16 of the Irish Junior Cup saving two penalties and scoring one in the penalty shoot out that saw them finally overcome Forde.
And he was at the penalty saving heroics again for Glenavon in the semi final win over Crusaders when the sides were poised at 1-1 in extra time. Glenavon went on to score twice to secure their place in the final.
“I was nervous at the start but settled down after that first game against Ballinamallard,” McGrath explained before adding;
“I think for the first few games I just didn’t want to let Shane down. I knew he had got me in as keeper so I wanted to make sure that I proved myself for his sake. And after I did that I think I relaxed even more and I have been really enjoying it.”