Irish Rovers Kane and Flynn in opposing camps for cup decider

By Richard PetrieBBC Sport NI
Ballymena's Tony Kane
Ballymena's Tony Kane was on the books of Blackburn Rovers from 2004 to 2009
League Cup final: Ballymena Utd v Cliftonville
Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast Date: Saturday, 24 January Kick-off : 17:30 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Red Button, the BBC Sport website and BBC Radio Ulster FM

Former housemates Tony Kane and Johnny Flynn must put their friendship to one side for the duration of Saturday's League Cup final between Ballymena United and Cliftonville.

The pair shared accommodation while professionals on the books of former Premier League club Blackburn Rovers and have remained close mates ever since.

They find themselves in opposing dressing rooms for the Windsor Park decider however as the Reds aim to lift the cup for a third consecutive year and Ballymena target their first-ever success in the competition.

Ironically, it was Ballymena who handed Flynn his first chance to impress in the Irish League and in 2008 he earned a move to full-time football after being recommended by former Northern Ireland international Barry Hunter, then a scout for the Ewood Park club.

"I met Tony for the first time when I moved over to Lancashire after joining Blackburn - he looked after me, took me under his wing and we shared a house for a few years," explained the central defender.

"He was a typical crazy Belfast man living away from home but I learned a lot from him and he taught me how to cook," said the 25-year-old from west Belfast, who will now be forced to watch from from the sidelines after suffering a knee injury in the recent County Antrim Shield final win over Bangor.

"After we went our separate ways we spoke on the phone every day and we still do. We've remained close friends - we go out a lot together, and our girlfriends get on really well too," he added.

Johnny Flynn
Johnny Flynn joined Blackburn Rovers from Ballymena United in 2008 but now plays for Cliftonville

Flynn went on loan to Chester City and Accrington Stanley, before moving to Scotland to ply his trade with Ross County and Falkirk, and then joined double Irish Premiership champions Cliftonville at the start of this season.

"We've struggled for consistency in the league lately but hopefully another cup final win might mark the start of a good end to the season for us and everyone involved with the club would like to make it three in a row in this competition.

"My injury is obviously a major setback but I'm enjoying my football at Solitude - we've had a rough spell with injuries and haven't been able to field a settled team for much of the year but it hasn't affected confidence in the dressing room at all.

"We've already beaten Ballymena in the Charity Shield, in the County Antrim Shield, and 7-0 at our place in the league - after the League Cup final, we've also been drawn together in the Irish Cup so we'll be sick looking at each other.

"We've had the better of our meetings so far so I hope it stays that way and I keep the bragging rights over Tony - there's been plenty of banter between us even though I'm going to be out injured and he better keep his phone switched off for a while if we win at Windsor Park on Saturday."

North Belfast man Kane had already spent four years at Blackburn when he struck up an enduring friendship with his compatriot.

"Johnny is one of the nicest fellas you will ever meet - he was clean and tidy around the house and I showed him the ropes when he joined Blackburn, who were still a force in the top flight of English football in those days," said the 27-year-old.

Roads to the final
Ballymena UtdCliftonville
Newington (home) 3-0Last 32Wakehurst (home) 6-0
Ballyclare Comrades (home) 3-1Last 16Carrick Rangers (home) 4-1
Dungannon Swifts (home) 3-1Quarter-finalsPortadown (home) 2-0
Ballinamallard Utd (away) 3-2Semi-finalsBangor (home) 4-3

"I loved it there and was named on the bench for a few first-team games. I went on pre-season tours with the first team for three years in a row and trained with the senior squad when Mark Hughes and Sam Allardyce were in charge.

"Unfortunately Lucas Neill played in my position and he was a quality defender so I didn't really get a chance."

The defender, who can also be deployed in midfield, had loan spells with Stockport County, Cercle Bruge, Carlisle United and Darlington, before joining Cliftonville for the end of the 2010-11 campaign.

The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland Under-21 international moved on to Ballymena United in July 2011 and scored his first goal for the club against his former Solitude team-mates in September of that year.

"We were unfortunate not to win the Irish Cup last May but that disappointment is spurring everyone on to make amends and give a good account of ourselves in this final," added Kane, who was sent-off in the closing stages of that match.

"The games between the sides have been really close this season, bar that freak 7-0 defeat in the league in November, so we're really up for it and while we know it will be tough, anything can happen in a one-off match."

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