TUMMERY Athletic boss Gerry Love insists that Enniskillen Rangers are now firm favorites to win a third consecutive fonaCAB Irish Junior Cup!
The top two teams in the Fermanagh and Western League lock horns in the showpiece decider at Ferney Park on Saturday after a dispute surrounding the playing of an unregistered player by Bessbrook United against Rangers in one of the two semi-finals on April 1was eventually put to bed.
Bessbrook, who had defeated Rangers 3-1, lost an appeal against an IFA board decision to reinstate the Enniskillen team after it ruled that Conor Sloan was ineligible to play in the last-four encounter at Lakeview Park.
At the end of last week the IFA asked Tummery and Rangers to propose preferred dates and venues for the showpiece and during the weekend a high noon kick-off at Ferney was confirmed.
Given everything that has happened during the course of the drawn out saga, Love believes Rangers have been given “a free hit”.
“For me personally I think Rangers have a free hit, a penalty kick with no goalie!” he said.
“They really have nothing to lose. They have found themselves in a position they never thought they would be in.
“They are now in the final and for us we are going to be playing the team that has won it for the last two years and who have just won the league.
“They will go in as favourites, they are under absolutely no pressure.
“But, no matter what people might say about not playing competitive football, it’s still a final, it’s there to be won and you respect your opponents.”
From those comments many will suspect that Love is already playing mind games as part of his plan to dethrone the champions.
With the final taking place a month later than the traditional May Day Bank Holiday slot, the key question for most observers is will Love and his counterpart Micheal Kerr have a full deck to pick from in terms of playing personnel.
With the holiday season on the horizon and the GAA campaigns in full swing, it’s hard to imagine that both teams will be at full strength. Yet, given there was a consensus to play the tie on Saturday, suggests that all the ‘big-game’ players are ready and raring to go.
As for Love he’s playing his cards pretty close to his chest.
“I definitely have one player gone abroad and will not play,” he continued.
“For us the last competitive game was the Mulhern Cup final, for Rangers it was the league game against us.
“It’s been a very difficult period in trying to get players to training. Obviously some people have been abroad as well.
“We are well into the Gaelic season at this stage, neither myself or Michael (Kerr) would have expected to be playing football in the week commencing June 3. It’s not ideal for me, it’s a month later than it should be.
“There’s not the same hype as there would have been for the Bank Holiday Monday when you came away from that win in the semi-final and was looking forward to it. It’s gone downhill after that.
“I don’t even know if we were to be successful that there would be the same euphoric feeling had it been on the Bank Holiday Monday when people would have travelled up to Windsor Park. And again the early kick-off. It’s got the whole feel towards it – let’s get this thing out of the way and done with as quick as possible! It happened all so quickly, it’s not the IFA’s finest moment.”
The league games between the sides finished 1-1 at Crawford’s Lane and 2-2 at The Ball Range, the latter result securing the league title for Rangers, and Love is anticipating that come Saturday there will again been a toss of the coin between the teams.
“Previous games would point that direction,” he added.
“There is nothing between the two teams, very little. It’s just a shame that we weren’t meeting Rangers at Windsor Park when the two teams were at their peak.
“I’m not so certain now with a month gone past that everybody will be the same level of fitness that they were. Still given the previous encounters, yeah, you would expect a tight game.”