Could Sterritt’s new arrival mark a good omen on Rangers’ biggest day?

At the Irish Cup fifth round draw are IFA President Jim Shaw, Crusaders players Sean O'Neill and Stephen O'Flynn, Rathfriland Rangers Chairman Junior Murray and Rod McCrory from sponsors Tennent's NI.
At the Irish Cup fifth round draw are IFA President Jim Shaw, Crusaders players Sean O'Neill and Stephen O'Flynn, Rathfriland Rangers Chairman Junior Murray and Rod McCrory from sponsors Tennent's NI.

Not only is Saturday the biggest day in the life of Rathfriland Rangers, it could also be be one of the most memorable days in the life of their young manager.

Clifford Sterritt’s side are off to Seaview to take on Premiership champions Cliftonville in the fifth round of the Irish Cup. But their boss might not even be there to witness it as his wife is expecting a child, due on exactly the same day.

Rathfriland Rangers boss Clifford Sterritt. Photo: Iain McDowell / Rathfriland FC

Rathfriland Rangers boss Clifford Sterritt. Photo: Iain McDowell / Rathfriland FC

It’ll be a case of one eye on the match and one eye on his phone - if Sterritt makes it to Seaview at all.

“Should Clifford have to make the trip to the hospital, we will have Dennis Niblock to look after things along with Lee Feeney and Johnny Black, who help out with the coaching as well,” said a typically jovial Rathfriland chairman Junior Murray.

“There could be a good omen in it all. What a gift it would be! You just never know.”

Rangers will need all the lucky charms they can get in what is a massive fifth round tie against the Premiership champions in their own back yard. It’s a match hailed as the biggest in the club’s 53 year history and amongst all the excitement in his family life, Sterritt is finding it all hard to take in.

“It’s just about starting to sink in now,” he said.

“When I came in, it was a dream of mine to reach the fifth round of the Irish Cup. It’s an honour to take a junior side to the Irish League champions because it’s not every day that happens.

“The supporters deserve it. They come out every week and cheer on the boys.”

On the pitch, a lot of Rathfriland’s stars will be well used to the highest stage. Defenders Aaron Black and Ross Black along with attackers Lee Feeney, James Costello and Marty Havern all have experience at Premiership standard and will have to perform if they are to stand any chance.

“Aaron Black won the Irish Cup with Crusaders and it will be great for him to go back up there,” said Sterritt, who marks a year in charge of the Whites this month.

“Crusaders have a team of quality players though. They’re sitting top of the Irish League with a goal difference of 32 at the start of January - that’s scary.”

Nonetheless, the manager isn’t ruling out a New Year miracle.

“There’s always a chance,” he said. “First and foremost, we want to be solid and make sure we keep the score down but we will put up a damn good fight.

“We’re going there to have a go. We have good attacking players and it’s not in our team to sit back. If we nick an early goal though, then it could become about defending. Or as Jose Mourinho would do, park the bus.”

Rathfriland have only reached the fifth round of the competition once before, when they travelled to Premiership side Institute in 2013. They pushed their senior opposition all the way in a narrow 2-1 defeat that day. Can they go one better this time round?

And will the manager be there to see it, or will he be keeping an eye on the score from afar with a new-born in his arms?