League Cup final: No full-time regrets for teacher pair as clubs fly part-time flag in Sunday showpiece

Addis ended himself further to the Cliftonville supporters with a goal against derby rivals Crusaders last month

They weren’t quite ‘Sliding Doors’ moments, but there is a parallel universe where Curtis Allen and Jonny Addis become full-time footballers.

On Sunday, though, the two schoolteachers will go head-to-head in a League Cup final contested by the flagbearers for the more traditional ‘part-time’ set-ups amidst a growing Irish League trend for full-time operations.

Experienced Coleraine striker Allen was 31 when Ali Pour’s multi-million pound investment arrived at Glentoran in 2019, making a jump back into the full-time regime too much of a gamble for the former Inverness forward who left The Oval to return to Coleraine in January 2020.

Addis, now 29, had ended a five-year spell with the Glens in 2018 by making a move to Ballymena United, who he left last summer to make what for many was a surprise move to Cliftonville.

So, as they prepared for Sunday’s showpiece – the first senior cup final in Northern Ireland to be played on a Sunday – it seemed apt to inquire if their minds ever drift towards ‘what might have been’ had the timing of the Oval cash injection been more conducive to their individual circumstances.

Curtis Allen
Allen became a talismanic figure for Glentoran during his time at The Oval

“I suppose, yes, if it had come five years earlier I would have been all over going into full-time football with the Glens,” said Allen, who recently took up a new post at Springhill Primary School.

“It just came at the wrong side of my career. I don’t really look back and wonder, it is what it is. I’ve had a good career, scored plenty of goals and I wouldn’t change it. I’ m lucky to have been able to play at the top level and still be able to teach.”

Addis was 25 when he left Glentoran and while, like Allen, he has no regrets whatsoever, he acknowledges he could well have had a career decision to make if the takeover had happened while he was there.

“I suppose you do look back and wonder how different things could have been, though ultimately there would have been plenty of factors involved – such as whether the club even wanted to keep me,” the Whitehead Primary School teacher explained.

“Generally, though, if I’d have been a bit younger I would have had more of a career decision to make. It’s not something I think about, really, but you do wonder how differently things may have worked out personally.”

Addis feeling the love as Reds make surprise Treble bid

Johnny Addis
Addis began his career at Carrick Rangers before spells at Glentoran and Ballymena United

After a summer move from the Sky Blues to Paddy McLaughlin’s Reds that raised more than a few eyebrows throughout the Irish League, Addis has been one of the country’s stand-out performers in a side that is currently second in the Premiership table with an Irish Cup semi-final to look forward to.

His centre-half partnership with young Aberdeen loanee Luke Turner has been a crucial factor in Cliftonville’s impressive campaign, with the 29-year-old’s authority in possession and eye for a cross-field pass seeing him become a huge favorite amongst the Solitude faithful.

Indeed, the Addis song – think Tiffany’s ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ with the chorus lyrics altered to ‘We love Addis, everybody loves Jonny Addis’ – is rarely far from the top of the fans’ set list, something the defender is appreciative of and amused by in equal measure.

“I first heard it when [Reds assistant manager] Decky O’Hara sent me a message one night with a video from the Cliftonville social club when someone had put the song on and they were singing my name to it. It seemed to catch on, did the rounds on social media and soon they were singing it on the terraces,” he explained with a smile.

“Some of my friends joked that my dad had started it. Now, there’s a supporters’ club with my name on it, complete with a flag, and they are running a bus to the end on Sunday. I even got a video of kids in Holy Cross Boys school singing it.It makes me laugh, it’s all good fun.

“On a personal level, it is probably as consistently well as I have played for a number of years. Paddy gives us a freedom to build from the back which suits my style of play, while the centre-half partners that I’ve played with here have complemented my game.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the people at the club, how welcoming they have been and there is a togetherness in the changing room that I maybe haven’t experienced before.”

While too experienced to get dragged into talk of a potential Treble, Addis does not hide away from the fact that victory on Sunday could help in their bids for league and Irish Cup success. And he added that he will be using recent defeats in all three cup competitions for Ballymena as extra motivation.

“We don’t want to be a team that plays nice football but doesn’t achieve anything, and Sunday’s really the first step in that. Hopefully if we can get a result it could be a springboard for the rest of the season. It’s something we are relishing without feeling any pressure because the expectations are on others.

“When you lose in finals like I have done with Ballymena, you do use them in some ways as extra motivation. What those finals taught me was that performances are not what count in these one-off games, it’s focusing on whatever it takes to get over the line.”

Child’s play for Allen – who likes to arrive for finals

Curtis Allen
Allen was a league title winner during his time at Linfield

One of the best finishers in the Irish League over the last 15 years, Curtis Allen has had a stellar career that has included successful spells at Linfield and Glentoran after being on the books of Leyton Orient and Bournemouth.

Now in his second spell at League Cup holders Coleraine, he knows that, at 34, major cup finals like Sunday’s may not come round too many times – but he explained that he has a further reason for looking forward to the decider with extra excitement.

“I’m under no illusions of where I’m at in my career. This could be my last cup final although I hope it’s not as I believe I have a couple more years in me yet. I want to pick up as many medals as I can,” said Allen, who has been in and out of the Coleraine starting line-up since returning from an early-season injury.

“On a personal note this cup final is massive for me because it is the first one I’ve been in since my one-year-old son Theo was born. I’ve seen players taking their children out as mascots before and it’s always something I’d love to do.

“Even if I don’t start or I don’t get to walk onto the pitch with him before the match, I’ll know he will be there with the kit on and those are memories that are hard to get. And there are also the celebrations afterwards if we do win where we could get some photos. I’ve loads of memories and photos from football but it would be great to have some with my son.”

Coleraine, of course, are the holders of the trophy, having beaten Crusaders in the 2020 final before last season’s competition was scrapped due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Having played in the 2012 final that the Bannsiders lost to the Crues, Allen made the first appearance of his second spell with the club as a late substitution in the February 2020 decider. Looking back on that night, he hopes there is an omen which bodes well for him and Oran Kearney’s men on Sunday.

“I broke my foot early in the season and haven’t played in any of our League Cup games which, ironically, was exactly the same as when we won it in 2020,” he observed.

“I had only just joined and that was actually my second debut for Coleraine. It turned out to work in my favor in 2020 that I didn’t play any earlier rounds for the Glens, meaning I was able to be on the bench for Coleraine in the end. Hopefully history repeats itself in that regard.”

Sunday’s final will be the second cup meeting in nine days for Coleraine and Cliftonville, with the Reds having won the Irish Cup quarter-final between the sides last Friday.

The Bannsiders felt Joe Gormley scored his winning goal with his hand and that they should have had a penalty during the game, and Allen admits those frustrations can help add extra motivation.

“I would never blame any player for what they did or didn’t do in a match, at the end of the day the referee is there to make the decisions. It does give you a bit more fire though it’s not as if we battered them for 90 minutes, a draw would have been a fair result.

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