Not only did Saturday’s victory over Loughgall book Cliftonville’s place in the Tennent’s Irish Cup Final, it also delivered another sprinkling of milestones courtesy of Joe Gormley and Rory Donnelly.
Both hit first-half doubles during a whirlwind start from the Reds, with Gormley’s second – an outrageous chipped effort from distance – his 15th goal in 15 Irish Cup appearances and also his 150th for the Club. He now sits 20 behind all-time leading scorer Kevin McGarry and trails second-top marksman Chris Scannell by just three.
The scoring was wrapped up soon later by Donnelly, whose close-range blast was the 3500th goal Cliftonville have scored away from Solitude and coincidentally came on the occasion of our 675th win on the road.
The victory saw the Reds progress to their 20th Irish Cup Final – and supporters won’t necessarily appreciate a reminder of the Club’s exasperating record at this stage of the competition.
Cliftonville lost the first two Irish Cup Finals (to Moyola Park in 1881 and Queen’s Island in 1882) before ensuring it was third-time lucky when Ulster were defeated 5-0 on May 5, 1883 – exactly 135 years to the day before next month’s showdown with Coleraine.
The trophy was next lifted on St Patrick’s Day 1888 when Distillery were overcome, while Sherwood Foresters were defeated in 1897 ahead of the Reds enjoying back-to-back successes in 1900 and 1901 following wins against Bohemians and Freebooters, respectively.
It took a replay to get the better of Shelbourne in 1907, with two attempts also required when Bohemians were eventually beaten in 1909. There then followed a 70-year wait – the longest gap between Cup Final wins in the competition’s history – until the heroes of 1979 enjoyed last-gasp success against Portadown at Windsor Park.
Alongside those eight triumphs, Cliftonville have suffered 10 losses (the most recent of which came at the hands of Glentoran in 2013) in addition to seeing Portadown awarded the trophy in 1999 without the decider being played following a player eligibility issue.
Though the Reds have never met this year’s opponents in the Final, we have locked horns with Coleraine in five Irish Cup clashes, losing four with our only victory coming at the Quarter Final stage in 1979.