IRISH CUP: Friendships set aside as Currie returns to Loughgall with Portadown

Portadown manager Niall Currie enjoyed great success as Loughgall boss
Portadown manager Niall Currie enjoyed great success as Loughgall boss

Niall Currie’s path to his dream job as manager of hometown club Portadown included a five-year spell at Loughgall that provided record-breaking silverware success.

Currie will now return to Lakeview Park - the scene of numerous glory days as he led the Villagers to eight trophies before joining Ards - aiming for an Irish Cup boost for a Ports side battling to beat the drop out of senior league football.

Rewards from the derby date extend beyond Mid-Ulster bragging rights and an interesting backdrop to the battle for a quarter-final spot is provided by long-standing links between Currie and Dean Smith.

The last time they shared a Lakeview Park matchday was with Currie as boss and Smith part of his strikeforce.

“We both know each other so well in terms of how we think about the game and approach it tactically,” said Currie. “Dean has worked wonders at Loughgall and will have his squad prepared and ready to go.

“Loughgall will be full of confidence given the job Dean has done and recent results but we have a drop in confidence that naturally comes from not winning games.

“I’ve been at Loughgall as home manager against big teams so know how crucial it is to have the right approach.

“We must have the mental strength and belief to match Loughgall for hunger then use our quality.

“A win would give us a place in the Irish Cup quarter-finals and offer a springboard for the rest of the league campaign.

“It would draw a line under our recent run of league results and it is a massive game for the club in so many ways.

“Time is against us but we have been able to add players to the squad to try and increase competition for places, which will help overall.

“Attitude and application play big roles and will especially be key on Saturday against Loughgall, when we must be prepared for a tough afternoon on a tight pitch against an in-form team.”

Currie is expected to hand debuts to three January signings in Matt Hazley, Shane Dolan and Jack Duffin.

“We have nothing to lose and everything to gain as, irrespective of anything else, it is a Championship club against a Premiership club,” said Smith. “That is not to say we go into the match not looking forward to the game but, in reality, the pressure is off my players.

“The lads have been working really hard and everyone around the club wants to make the most of the occasion on Saturday as it is a big day for Loughgall to have a senior side, especially Portadown, come to our ground in the sixth round.

“At the end of the day, a manager is always restricted in what he can do during a game and Saturday will be the same irrespective of the connections between Niall and myself.

“It still comes down to the players over that line and it is a big day for everyone connected to Loughgall.

“We just want to prove as competitive as possible and enjoy the occasion as a club.

“I have played for Niall at Loughgall and we could probably do each other’s teamtalk.

“I am delighted to see him as manager of a big club like Portadown and he has always been someone I can talk to about the game, personally and professionally.

“We know how the other thinks about the game and I am not expecting too many surprises for either of us.

“He has certainly been an influence on my career.”

Jordan Baker and Mark McCullough are both ineligible for Loughgall selection.