Comrades have nothing to fear: Higgins

Ballyclare Comrades captain Ricky Higgins (right)
Ballyclare Comrades captain Ricky Higgins (right)

Comrades skipper Ricky Higgins says he and his team-mates have nothing to fear as they prepare for tonight’s Steel and Sons Cup semi-final at Seaview.

The Reds are just one match away from the Christmas Day final, but to get there they first have to negotiate their way past a stubborn Glentoran reserve team which has conceded just one goal in the competition.

“I think it will be a tough night,” the Ballyclare striker told the Times. “The last time I checked, Glentoran were challenging at the top of the reserve league, so they are obviously no mugs. They’ve also got the added bonus of bringing in a couple of first-team players, so it will be a mixture of youth and experience in their team.”

Eddie Hill’s new-look side has enjoyed a memorable Steel Cup run this year and they want to go all the way and book their spot in the festive showpiece - a game which is widely regarded one of the biggest dates on the local football calendar.

Defined by their grit and determination, the Dixon Park outfit has come to the boil nicely in the pressure cooker of knockout football. En route to the last four, they have twice emerged on the right side of penalty shootouts and 27-year-old Higgins believes the team’s togetherness is the key ingredient in their progress.

“This year we have a great squad mentality in the group,” he said. “Everyone is there for each other, more so than other years. We are all battling for each other on the pitch and we are keeping it very tight. We have won twice on penalties (against Kilmore Rec and Dromara Village) and it shows that we are not giving up. We’re not throwing the towel in and we will be prepared on tonight. We haven’t got any prima donnas in the team and everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet.”

Higgins doesn’t have the best record when it comes to the business-end of the Steel Cup. He has tasted defeat at the semi-final stage on three occasions and he was part of the Comrades side which lost 2-0 to Dundela in the 2007 final. Now he wants to erase the ghost of Christmas past from his memory.

“That final ruined my Christmas. I think, personally, I’m maybe due a bit of good luck. It would mean a lot (to me) to go on and win it. Next to the Irish Cup, it’s the biggest Cup competition for teams at our level. And the last time we were beaten in the final I think there was about three or four thousand there, so it’s probably the biggest crowd that we will have the chance to play in front of.

“That’s a big incentive for us and a good opportunity for the boys, but there is a long way to go yet and, but first, we have to do the business on tonight.”

The Reds trained on Crusaders’ artificial pitch on Monday evening. And while Higgins isn’t a fan of the surface, he added: “At the end of the day, it’s 90 minutes and the surface is the same or both teams.

“The only people who can beat us on tonight is ourselves and I think once we get going we are a match for any team... we’ve got nothing to be scared of.”