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GAME ON: ONE STEP FROM BIG TIME; Dream tie with Coleraine is the spur for Beckett's Ballymoney.

Byline: BILLY WEIR

THERE'S nothing more Liam Beckett would love than to lead his Ballymoney United team out against Coleraine - the club where he is still a legend.

Beckett helped the Bannsiders to a brace of Irish Cup triumphs in the 70s and as he prepares for this weekend's fourth round clash with Ards Rangers he'll be keeping a watchful eye on events just up the A26.

Coleraine's triumph in the May showpiece last year helped exorcise the ghosts of a 26-year wait from when Beckett scored the opening goal in a 4-1 rout of Linfield in 1977.

While a game with the North Down side is a far cry from those heady days, the team from the 'Toon' is making steady progress under Beckett in this, their debut season in the First Division.

Still in the Intermediate Cup, they are in the upper reaches of the league, and reached the semi-final of the Daily Mirror Trophy.

But just in case people start to get carried away, Beckett can already point to a shock cup exit this season at the hands of one of Rangers' Down compatriots.

Little Holywood travelled to the Showgrounds in the Steel and Sons Cup and dumped out Beckett's men, while last year it was Killyleagh who ended United's hopes of a bash at the big boys.

"After those two results we'll be taking nothing for granted", said Beckett. "We played Ards Rangers last year, and they took us to extra-time, although we were down to ten men. But they have a good record and hammered Moyola 5-1 in the last round, so we'll not be taking them for granted.

"This is always the round that junior teams look forward too as you're only one step away from the likes of Linfield, Glentoran and of course, Coleraine."

"I would love to see us get past Ards Rangers on Saturday and then be drawn against Coleraine in the next round. We've played them in pre-season games and always to well, but to play them in a competitive game would be something else."

Rangers will have plenty to say about that, although they will have their work cut out against a team packed with senior Irish League experience.

One player that won't be figuring though is club captain, Lee Patrick, the former Limavady United and Ballymena United midfielder is still having problems with a troublesome knee injury.

He is one of four junior internationals in the panel, joining David Calderwood, Johnny Law and Barry Cunning, while the coup of signing former Derby County player, Brian Tosh, has reaped rewards.

"Toshy has been fantastic for us and deservedly was picked for the Northern Ireland Under-19 side, which was a great honour for the club," Beckett added.

Top goalscorer, Gavin Burnside, returned to the club at the start of the season and is already nearing the 20-goal mark, and with ex-Ballymena striker Scott Drummond in the wings there is plenty of strength in depth.

"We've been scoring goals, but have a tendency to nod off at times, and that's how Holywood caught us.

"We have to make sure that we don't do the same against Ards Rangers", Beckett warned.

CAPTION(S):

HOPEFUL: United boss Liam Beckett; EXPERIENCE: Ballymoney's former Ballymena player Scott Drummond
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 2, 2003
Words:543
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