Albert warns team-mates not to downplay semi-final

ALBERT Watson last night warned his Ballymena United team-mates not to under-estimate the magnitude of Saturday's JJB Sports Irish Cup semi-final against Portadown.

Watson is the only player still at the Showgrounds who played in United's last Irish Cup semi-final, in 2005.

That ended in heartache for the Sky Blues, who were beaten 1-0 by Larne in a match which they entirely dominated but could find no way past Larne's inspired keeper Alex Spackman.

"Their keeper had a 'worldy' that day – it was just his day and that was the end of it," groans Watson as he recalls that defeat at the Oval.

"It was our big chance to go to an Irish Cup final and it got away from us.

"I remember the older players in our squad knew what a miss it was but I was only 19 at the time and the real effect of it doesn't kick in as quickly.

"It's hard to believe that was five years and it shows that, unless you're maybe at a club like Linfield or Glentoran, Irish Cup semi-finals don't come along all that often for a club like Ballymena.

"That's why I will be telling some of your younger players to make sure this one doesn't pass them by.

"We have to make sure that everybody is up for the occasion and that each player wins his own personal battle against his opponent.

"If you work harder than your opponent, then nine times out of 10 you get a positive outcome in the match.

"There have been matches this season where we haven't looked like doing anything but we have proved we can do it on the big occasions.

"I can remember in the dressing room before the quarter-final replay against Glenavon feeling that everybody wanted it because our season hinged upon it.

"I would be very disappointed if the boys don't go out and do themselves justice against Portadown.

"The boss has already reiterated the importance of this game to the club and told us how we can put ourselves into the history books of Ballymena United."

Albert believes Ballymena must nullify the Ports' attacking threat if they are to give themselves a chance of being in the final of May 8.

"For me, Gary McCutcheon is one of the best strikers in the league – he is such a clever player at peeling off defenders, getting the ball deep, then turning and running at you.

"Kevin Braniff is another really good player and if we can stop those two, then I think we have a really good chance.

"It's been a frustrating season for me with the number of facial injuries I've had and this is a great opportunity for me to finish on a high," added Albert.