IRISH CUP PREVIEW: ‘I have to repay their faith’ says Tuffey

Jonny Tuffey.  Photo Alan Weir/Pacemaker Press
Jonny Tuffey. Photo Alan Weir/Pacemaker Press

Banbridge man Jonny Tuffey says he has a debt of gratitude to repay his current club.

The 29 year-old is enjoying a storming first season at Glenavon, earning plaudits from far and wide.

Jonny won the NI Football Writers' Player of the Month award for December and picked up the award from the BBC's Stephen Watson.

Jonny won the NI Football Writers' Player of the Month award for December and picked up the award from the BBC's Stephen Watson.

He was the NI Football Writers Association’s Player of the Month for December and has caught the hearts of the club’s support with countless flawless performances.

As recently as last weekend, he hogged the headlines as he saved a late Coleraine penalty to earn a 1-0 win for his side, a valuable victory in the race for Europe.

Tuffey and his team, of course, are now fully focused on Friday evening’s Irish Cup semi-final against Crusaders at the National Football Stadium (kick-off 7.45pm).

And the local man is desperate to reach his first final in local football.

Tuffey will be out to stop the Crues on Friday evening. Photograph:/Cameron Hamilton -Presseye

Tuffey will be out to stop the Crues on Friday evening. Photograph:/Cameron Hamilton -Presseye

“It would be absolutely incredible,” he said.

“It’s not about me though. I have a heart to further the club. What Gary (Hamilton - manager) has done since he took over is absolutely incredible and I want to help keep that going. We’re all pushing in the same direction.

“(The semi-final) is huge. We’re playing the champions and current league leaders so we’re under no illusions as to how hard it will be.

“We’ll work hard this week and come Friday night we’ll be very focused. We’ll hopefully be at our very best and hopefully that will be good enough.”

Tuffey returned home in 2013 after a career in Scottish football. In his two seasons at Linfield though, the former NI keeper didn’t manage to hit the heights that he already has managed at Mourneview Park.

“A huge part of it is being happy,” he explained. “What Gary and the club have given to me personally has been great. To be able to go and enjoy the environment you’re working in and playing in is a huge boost.

“I really have to thank the club for giving me the opportunity. It’s a great place to play your football.

“It was well documented I had my ups and down at Linfield but that’s football. I’m not one to look back. I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity at Glenavon and I have to make the most of that. I have to repay the faith that they have shown in me.

“It’s not about me or any other player. It’s about a terrific squad trying to progress. We’re all on the same hymn sheet and there is a real hunger for success.”

Tuffey spent a ten year period across the water and, although he wouldn’t rule out a return, being back in his home town is just fine.

“I would never close the door on going back over,” he said.

“My family’s here and they’re the most important thing. My little boy’s in school here.

“If the right opportunity came along, I’d have to think about it but I’m fully focused on the here and now. I’m really enjoying being with my family a lot more and being at Glenavon. It’s a great place to be.”

Another reason for Tuffey’s success at Glenavon, he is keen to stress, is goalkeeping coach Reggie Hillen. The pair usually emerge a little early during the half-time interval, something that has become a ritual for the keeper.

“It’s just something I like to do,” he said. “It’s good to get back out and get a feel of the ball again, even more so in games when you maybe haven’t been as busy during the first half. It gets the hand-eye co-ordination in again and it’s really just about routine.

“I’ll be forever indebted to Reggie for the work and the hours he has put in. I could never thank him enough for what he has given me. He’s been phenomenal. He even came in early during the summer to start working with me.

“He’s very meticulous in his work. He’s very detailed and it’s a pleasure to work with him.”

So the next time Tuffey takes to the pitch will be in one of the biggest games in his Irish League career so far.

Also playing in this weekend’s semi-finals is Tuffey’s friend and fellow Bann man Aaron Burns, who will feature for Linfield against Lurgan Celtic at the National Football Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).

On Friday, Tuffey will be going out without Dromore man and Glenavon centre-back Kris Linday. He was sent off during Saturday’s 1-0 win in Coleraine.

His handball resulted in a penalty, which Tuffey saved, and a second yellow. The goalkeeper admits Linday’s absence will be a miss for the club.

“Kris has been immense,” he said. “He has a lot of experience and he is a massive asset to us. He’ll be a big loss for us on Friday night.

“It was great to save the penalty at Coleraine though,” continued Tuffey, who appeared to have objects thrown at him from amongst the home support.

“It’s always a little bit of a gamble on penalties but luckily I went the right way and got a hand to us.

“You have to look at everything overall and I thought it was a fantastic team performance. The boys were phenomenal.

“With a heavily depleted squad, everybody put in a great shift to get the points.

“I’m just happy to be playing my part in a great team.”

And an integral part he has come to be.

Some are even calling for a recall to the Northern Ireland squad following his consistent performances, but for now all Jonny is worried about is bringing more silverware to Mourneview Park.