IT’S the final pairing few predicted but Strabane Athletic manager Eamon Curry said his team would be treating Newbuildings United with the same respect as any other opponent in Saturday’s NI Challenge Cup showpiece decider at Derry’s Wilton Park (Kick-off 1pm).
Newbuildings produced a major shock by defeating Maiden City 2-0 in last weekend’s semi-final. Goals by Stephen Wallace and Jack McClelland sent the fancied City packing to set up a mouth-watering clash with Athletic, who were 3-1 victors over Trojans in the other last-four clash.
On paper Strabane will be favourites to lift the coveted silverware although Curry doesn’t necessarily agree.
“Newbuildings aren’t a bad team. Maiden City are strong and play some really, really good football,” he said.
“Maiden City were the bookies favourites to beat them in the semi-final but apparently Newbuildings were fantastic. Fair play to them. We have played Newbuildings twice this year and they have given us two very tough games. We drew with them 0-0 at Newbuildings and beat them 2-0 at home. Anything can happen in a one-off game.”
Athletic haven’t contested a major final since May 2016 when, under Paddy Foy, they were beaten 3-1 by treble winners Trojans in the Northern Ireland Intermediate League Cup Final at Newbuildings.
This season Strabane just missed out on the league title and after that had been decided were defeated by Trojans and Ardstraw in their final two games to finish third.
Curry’s men bounced back in style with the weekend’s cup success against Trojans, thanks to goals by Conal Crawford, Aodhan Doherty and Sean Lynch.
However preparations have been far from ideal. Midfield kingpin Gary Henderson misses the showpiece final due to suspension while Crawford and Ronan McBrearty are rated doubtful through injury.
Despite this, Curry believes he has enough quality in the squad to see off the Newbuildings challenge.
“It’s my job as manager to manage the situation and this is where we find ourselves. We won’t be using that as an excuse,” added the former Tyrone boss.
“We have enough quality in the group to deal with that.
“As I have said before every game we prepare the same. The last two league games were difficult after missing out on the league. It hit the players hard and we weren’t at our best, taking nothing away from Trojans or Ardstraw. I could understand their disappointment.
“But this is a game that means something and we’ll get back into training this week and prepare.
“It doesn’t matter who you play, if you adopt the wrong attitude, then you are setting the wrong example to the boys.
“I have been very impressed with Newbuildings’ work ethic and defensively they are well organised. Key for us is to match that work rate, if we do that then we have the quality.
“But Newbuildings have quality as well, so it’s going to be a very, very difficult game, there is no doubt about that.
“It’s a cup final, a local derby and they’ll be on a high after that fantastic result against Maiden City.
“It’s set up for an entertaining final. Hopefully football is the real winner and the outcome isn’t decided by a bad refereeing decision or a mistake.
“If Newbuildings go out, work hard as a team and they beat us fair and square then I can accept that.
“But we are relishing the challenge and hopefully we can get the right result.”