BetMcLean Cup


21 Feb 2024
© PressEye Ross Redman celebrates Portadown's win in 2008/09

Although Portadown are back in the BetMcLean Cup final for just the first time in 13 years there is definitely no lack of experience of the big day itself within the Shamrock Park camp, both on and off the pitch.

The Ports will be making only the third appearance by a Championship side in the final since the competition began in the mid-80s. The Portadown side of 2008/09 were, of course, the first to be followed some seven years later by Ards, then managed by current Ports supremo Niall Currie.

Ards did go on to lose in the final by three goals without reply to a record breaking Cliftonville side claiming the trophy for a fourth successive season, but Currie's insight will prove invaluable this time around.

On the pitch there will be few that can match the cup final experience of midfielder Gary Thompson who, if selected, will be playing in his fourth final for a third different club.

He was a member of the Lisburn Distillery side that beat the Ports 2-1 in the 2010/11 final after they had led at the break only for the Whites to strike back in the second half.

That was his first winning medal in senior football but, unfortunately, he was on the losing side in 2014/15 as a pivotal member of the Ballymena United squad that lost by the odd goal in five to Cliftonville.

His fortunes changed again just a couple of years after that when he came off the bench to play his part in the Sky Blues' win over Carrick Rangers at Seaview while, in 2019/20, he was an unused sub for Crusaders in their defeat to Coleraine.

© PressEye Gary Thompson and Ross Redman focused on winning possession in the 2010/11 final

But one player can go back further that, the evergreen Ross Redman, who not only actually turned out for the Ports in that historic 2008/09 victory over Newry City at Mourneview Park but delivered the free-kick that eventually led to Gary McCutcheon bagging the winner and only goal of the game.

And like Thompson, Redman is also a survivor of the loss to Lisburn Distillery a couple of seasons after that.

His career went on to take him to Glentoran, Dungannon Swifts and Ballymena United but he never made another appearance in the final, so it is perhaps very fitting that he's back for a third time after rejoining the Ports last summer.

It's fair to say that the Ports will be going into this season's final with holders Linfield as underdogs, but it's nothing several members of the squad haven't experienced before.

Indeed, three of them - Paul McElroy, Ryan Mayse and Douglas Wilson - played their part in another somewhat unexpected win when Dungannon Swifts got the better of then holders Ballymena United in the 2017/18 decider.

It was a night to remember for Mayse. He opened the scoring with a finish off the underside of the bar after just 11 minutes from a move started by McElroy's cross from the left.

Mayse then doubled up eight minutes from the break from close range after his initial effort had been blocked.

Wilson also played his part on the night, coming on at the break to help shore up the defence in anticipation of a second half onslaught from David Jeffrey's side.


© PressEye Ryan Mayse scored twice for Dungannon Swifts in the 2017/18 final win over Ballymena United

Twelve months prior to that both Lee Chapman and Paddy McNally ended up on the losing side for Carrick Rangers as they went down 2-0 to the Sky Blues at Seaview.

TJ Murray also played for Rangers that night, but he will be cup-tied on this occasion after turning out for Ballymena United in the competition earlier this season.

Aaron Traynor could be making his third appearance in four years and will be hoping for better luck this time round.

He started for Coleraine in their 2019/20 win over Crusaders, although he only played a limited role in the game before being forced off midway through the first half after picking up an injury.

Then, a couple of years later, he was back for the Bannsiders only to lose in a seven-goal thriller with Cliftonville.

So, no matter what happens on March 10th it's clear Portadown will not be overawed going into the big occasion. Collectively they've been there, done that and given their pedigree in the competition Linfield would be foolish to underestimate them.