IRISH CUP: Harpur’s Dungannon dream

Ryan Harpur (left). Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Ryan Harpur (left). Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Ryan Harpur’s roots may remain in his home town of Portadown but the midfield man has formed a strong bond with Dungannon Swifts since signing up for that short Mid-Ulster journey back in December 2011.

The real distance Harpur has managed to travel over the past five-plus years can been measured by performances on the pitch.

Handed the captain’s armband at the end of his first full season at Stangmore Park, Harpur is respected as a driving force from the Swifts midfield.

Time spent in Swifts colours helped Harpur revitalise his faith in football following a frustrating time at Glenavon and the mutual appreciation runs both ways.

“For everyone at Dungannon it would mean so much to reach the Irish Cup final.” said Harpur. “I have formed a close connection with the club since joining and see how much work is put in by people behind the scenes.

“It would be a brilliant reward for us to be able to give those people something to shout about by reaching the final in May.

“Personally, it would be the best achievement of my own career.”

Harpur will return to Mourneview Park this week when the Swifts must tackle the test of high-flying Linfield in Lurgan.

The Swifts’ previous semi-final showpiece was at the same venue in 2012 when Crusaders edged home by a single goal.

Linfield and Dungannon also share some proud cup history - with the last knockout tie of such significance between the club’s the 2007 final.

“This year is the 10th anniversary of that final with Linfield and five seasons since our last semi-final appearance, so the boys are well up for it,” said Harpur. “We have to be quietly confident we can cause an upset, although Linfield are one of the biggest clubs around.

“We can just concentrate on what we do, try to play our game and get on the ball.

“Earlier in the season at Windsor Park we should have won and played really well.

“If we move the ball we can maybe cause a few problems.

“Mourneview Park is a bigger pitch than what we are used to and I always think more space suits us in terms of how we play.

“It will be tight, if Linfield play well they will probably turn us over but we will be hoping to rise to the occasion.”

Harpur’s combative and competitive style marks his head-to-head with Linfield in the heart of the pitch a key element to Saturday.

“They’ve got people like Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Lowry, two of the best midfielders in the league,” said Harpur. “I’m definitely enjoying that midfield battle.

“You have got to enjoy playing in those situations and going up against the best, if you didn’t there would be no point walking out on the pitch.”

Harpur’s focus may centre on the fight for that precious central real estate but one advantage the Swifts can boast over Linfield - or any other Irish League outfit - comes in attack.

Andrew Mitchell will make a permanent switch to Mourneview Park next season having signed a pre-contract agreement to join Glenavon. The forward’s value to the Swifts can be rated in his role as the Danske Bank Premiership’s leading scorer and an Irish Cup final appearance would prove the perfect swansong for the popular striker.

“Andrew is the best centre-forward in the league,” said Harpur. “If we can keep it tight, with Andrew you always have that chance to nick a goal.

“Hopefully he can perform this weekend and we can do the business as a team.”

Peter McMahon may not match Harpur’s length of service to the Swifts squad but enjoyed a landmark moment last weekend with his first goal for the club - and has happy memories of the Irish Cup semi-final stage.

McMahon found the net against former club Portadown to open his account with the Swifts. The playmaker is keen to push on from that goal and secure a starting spot this weekend - when he will be aiming to repeat an appearance on the scoresheet enjoyed with the Ports in 2015.

“I’ve been in and out of the team and the goal has been a long time coming,” said McMahon. “I hope this can be a kick-start to my Dungannon career and need a good pre-season so, hopefully, next campaign I can get back to my best.

“I got a chance against Portadown and knew I had to prove myself to try and get in for the semi-final.

“Maybe Rod might bring me in because I have semi-final experience, he gave a few guys a chance last Saturday.

“A lot of players have scored goals this season as well so it’s going to be difficult to get in.

“We have a big squad and everyone is capable, it’s a good bunch of lads and mostly in around the same age.”