The Northern Ireland Football League Premiership takes a break this week to make way for the quarter finals of the showpiece of Northern Irish football: The Tennent’s Irish Cup.
As luck would have it the magic bag and balls (no sniggering in the back, please) managed to draw three feisty derby matches out of the four matches this weekend!
Ballymena United v Coleraine
Ballymena and Coleraine each have 5 Irish Cup wins to their name. It was Ballymena that were the victors when the two sides met in the semi-final of the League Cup, a competition that The Sky Blues would go on to lift after a 2-0 victory over Carrick Rangers. The two sides are separated by only two points in the league with Coleraine occupying 4th place and Ballymena United one step behind in 5th.
Dungannon Swifts v Warrenpoint Town
The only non-derby tie of the round. Dungannon are currently chasing a Europa League play off place via the league while Warrenpoint are the league leaders in the Championship, seeking a return to the top flight. Neither side have ever managed to win the Irish Cup but Dungannon came closest in 2007 with an agonising loss on penalties to Linfield.
Portadown v Glenavon
Portadown and Glenavon will lock horns in a tasty Mid Ulster clash. In the league Portadown looked doomed to relegation meanwhile Glenavon are attempting to qualify for Europe for the second consecutive season. Glenavon qualified for Europe through winning the Irish Cup last seaon in a thrilling 2-0 victory over Linfield, that was the Lurgan Blues’ 7th Irish Cup title. Portadown are the proud owners of 3 Irish Cups with their most recent final victory coming in a 5-1 thrashing of Larne in 2005.
Crusaders v Linfield
Perhaps the most relishing tie of the round. 1st and 2nd in the league respectively, the two Belfast clubs have been fighting it out for supremacy this season. The Hatchetmen (Crusaders) have certainly had the upper hand in the league as they currently lead the Blues by 7 points. The Blues, managed by Northern Ireland legend David Healy, were dominant in the sides’ most recent clash in the County Antrim Shield Final winning 3-1. Crusaders will be chasing only their fourth ever Irish Cup while the Blues would be looking to add to their current toll of 42 Irish Cup titles.
Tip for the week
My Northern Ireland tip for the week would be home wins for Ballymena United (v Coleraine) and Crusaders (v Linfield) which delivers nice value for the double at just over 4/1, odds provided by skyBET.