Knockbreda .............. 1
Strabane Athletic ....... 2
STRABANE Athletic's remarkable 2-1 Irish Cup victory at Championship side Knockbreda on Saturday stunned many people across the country, but for manager Eamon Curry it was no great surprise.
Hundreds of loyal supporters made the 200-mile trip to Breda Park in east Belfast in hope of a cup upset - and they weren't disappointed as Athletic produced an outstanding performance to seal their place in the last 16 of the cup and set up an intriguing tie with Larne Tech OB.
The travelling supporters didn't have long to wait for the opening goal, with Warner Mullen netting from the spot after just seven minutes after Sean Ferry was upended in the home side's penalty box.
The euphoria was short lived, however, because moments later an unfortunate error gifted Knockbreda centre forward Darius Roohi an open goal which he gratefully accepted.
Strabane's netminder Jack Boggs was excellent on the day and produced a number of superb saves to keep the scores level, but Strabane had chances of their own before Mullen grabbed his brace with 20 minutes to play.
It was a tense finale for the Strabane support as Knockbreda, as expected, applied tremendous pressure in a desperate bid to remain in the competition, but well marshalled by skipper Liam McMenamin the Athletic rearguard stood firm.
Manager Curry was delighted with his side's performance and result but said he wasn't surprised Strabane were able to put a Championship side to the sword.
"I have great faith in the boys and I trust them," Curry said. "We knew it wasn't going to be an easy game and Knockbreda had chances, Jack Boggs played really well, but I knew there were going to be phases in the game that we would have to ride out the storm.
"It wasn't a shock to me because we have a lot of experience in the team and four or five young players who can play up the levels. We had a game plan and we played well so it wasn't really a shock. I'm delighted to get through it but for me it wasn't a surprise."
Asked if the players had performed at their highest level, Curry said: "You always want to improve on things. There are certain aspects of Saturday's game that we will review and try to improve because it's hard to play the perfect game.
"There are always lessons to be learned but I thought the attitude of the players was excellent.
"Warner Mullen played very well but it was a great performance all round."
Questioned if this result proves that Athletic are capable of playing at a higher standard, Curry responded: "It's not just this result. If you look at the pathway we have beaten Portstewart, Banbridge, St James' Swifts, who in my eyes may as well be a Championship side, and now we have gone on and beat Knockbreda."
To be honest, however, at this round everyone at Strabane was probably hoping for a more lucrative draw than a match with Larne Tech OB.
"At this stage we probably wanted one of the bigger teams; to play in the big stadiums," admitted Curry. "But this is a game we will not want to lose. We are on level terms and I think this game is going to be even harder."
But for now Curry and the attention of his players immediately turn to focus on their next league opponent, Trojans, this weekend.
"It's back to preparations for the league game against Trojans on Saturday and trying to get the boys back down to earth," said Curry.
"The club is pretty focused; we have always said the league is the priority. I think we will all be very disappointed if we don't get a result on Saturday.
"The last two times we have gone down there it has been very difficult. It's always a tough test; they are a community-based club and no matter what team they put out they always seem to fight for each other so it's very difficult to get a result there."
The Athletic boss wanted to thank the huge travelling support for their attendance on Saturday.
"The crowd was amazing, and I think that played with Knockbreda's heads a wee bit," he beamed. "There were up to 300 travelling supporters there and they made a massive difference on the day. It's a 200-mile round trip and it's just fantastic support.
"The players took great heart in the people investing their time to travel to watch the team. It gave us a huge boost and we are very thankful and humbled."
Full report and photo spread in this week's Strabane Weekly News ...