Andy McGrory experienced all the emotions generated by an Irish Cup final and encouraged his Ballymena United team-mates to really embrace the showpiece at Windsor Park tomorrow against the Crusaders.
The 30-year-old midfielder was part of the Sky Blues side that lost the 2020 decider to Glentoran, but he has lifted the trophy twice with Glenavon after a 2-1 win over the Braidmen in 2014 and then a 2-0 win against Linfield. two years later.
Now hoping to make his fourth final, McGrory feels blessed to have tasted the big opportunity, even if it wasn’t always the result he wanted.
“Some players go through their whole career and can’t play in an Irish Cup final so I feel very lucky,” said McGrory, who started his career at Linfield.
“I was talking to Sean O’Neill and Ross Redman and we talked about having the guys take a step back and try to take advantage of it.
“You have to take it all in because you might not be able to make another final.
“We put in the heads of the boys who did not play in the final what it is about.
“The day comes and goes very quickly and it’s important that you enjoy it while enjoying everything. I won both finals with Glenavon and Glentoran beat us in 2020 with practically the last kick of the ball.
“It was heartbreaking and I don’t want to have those emotions anymore.
“It’s the big day of the year that everyone looks forward to and wants to be part of.
“The preparation is excellent and, unfortunately, someone has to lose.
“I’ve been through both sides and I can tell you now it’s a much better experience when you win it.”
Ballymena hasn’t lifted the famous former trophy since 1989 but McGrory, who joined the club in 2018, says the chance to make history is a big motivator for the team.
“There is an added incentive for players to go down in club history because 1989 is a long time ago,” said McGrory who helped Sky Blues finish second in the league in his first season on the Braid .
“The fans are excited and they have tasted the final disappointment of the cup.
“It would mean a lot to us to cross the line to give them that moment.
“Hopefully we can do it for them.
“Both teams are going to go there and it should be an exciting game.
“This season has shown that anyone can beat anyone in their day and this is a unique cup final.
“If you show up and have a bit of luck, you can cross the line.
“The Crusaders are a very good team, it will be a tough game, the depth of their team is one of the best in the league but who knows what will happen.”
McGrory struggled with a neck injury but recently recovered, adding: “The atmosphere is great.
“Everyone is active this week and we haven’t had as much time to prepare, but the training has been brilliant and we are in good spirits. Les Crues have been in good shape but we relish the challenge.