Irish Cup: 'Big brother is watching' as Mulgrew plots Queen's upset

Central midfielder Mulgrew has been an integral part of the Queen's team since joining in 2017
Central midfielder Mulgrew has been an integral part of the Queen's team since joining in 2017

The Mulgrew household is hoping it will be a case of 'divide and rule' in the Irish Cup sixth round on Saturday.

Parents Heather and William will be at Windsor Park to see their middle son Jamie captain Linfield as the Blues take on Irish Premiership champions Crusaders in south Belfast.

In south Down, however, eldest son Jordan will be at Milltown to watch the youngest of the Mulgrew brothers, Ben, play for Queen's University against Warrenpoint Town.

The trip to the in-form top-flight outfit is an opportunity for the Premier Intermediate League club to cause a huge cup upset, but it will mean Heather and William will not get to follow their preferred matchday schedule.

"When we're both at home mum and dad would try to get to both our matches," Ben explained.

"We usually kick off at 1.30 or 2.00pm at the Dub so they would come to the first half of my game then drive across south Belfast to watch Jamie playing for Linfield at 3pm.

"That won't work this week, obviously, so I think the plan is for my parents to watch Jamie and Jordan will come to Warrenpoint - he always enjoys watching Queen's.

Ben (left) with brothers Jamie and Jordan
Ben (left) is in regular contact with brothers Jamie and Jordan

No pressure from big brother

Jamie, of course, is captain of the most successful club in the country and has been one of the Irish League's best players over the last decade.

As a younger brother playing two divisions below, it would be understandable if that weighed heavily on your shoulders. Not so for Ben, however, who enjoys a close relationship with his brothers.

"The three of us speak to each other all the time - in fact Jamie is always round at our house asking mum and dad to mind the kids," Ben joked.

"I'm well used to people knowing me as Jamie's younger brother, but it's never bothered me at all. He's always been very supportive of my football."

Indeed, Jamie has been in the stands watching Queen's on a quite a few occasions when he's had the opportunity. And, of course, he has experience of playing Warrenpoint to pass on to Ben, who scored in the students' fifth-round hammering of Lisburn Distillery.

Jamie Mulgrew lifted the Irish Cup for Linfield in 2017
Jamie Mulgrew lifted the Irish Cup for Linfield in 2017

"Jamie can see how good a club Queen's is - he realises the progress we are making and he knows how happy I am there," Ben continued.

"We coach a kids' team together on a Sunday and I spoke to him last week about Warrenpoint. Our management team have done plenty of their own analysis, but Jamie gave me a heads up on a few things to look out for."

Doing history at Queen's

Founded in 1910 and initially focused on university football, Queen's were one of the founding members of the Amateur League in 1923.

They moved into the old 'B Division' - essentially the second tier of football in Northern Ireland - in the early 1950s and remained there until dropping down to the Northern Ireland Intermediate League in 1996.

It wasn't long, however, before they returned to the Irish League and have been in NIFL's third tier - now called the Premier Intermediate League - since 2003.

Mulgrew helped Queen's to Intermediate Cup success last season
Mulgrew helped Queen's to Intermediate Cup success last season

They enjoyed a historic run to the semi-finals of the Irish Cup in 2014 - eventually losing to Ballymena United - and last season the history books were rewritten again when they won the club's first trophy by beating Dundela in the Intermediate Cup final at Windsor.

Having flirted with relegation for a few years, Queen's finished second in the table last season and are currently the league leaders.

A change in club strategy has been a key factor in the upturn in fortunes. Until 2017 they had always operated a policy which meant only students or recent graduates could play for Queen's, but now up to 25% of a match day squad can be made up of 'associate players' who didn't study at the south Belfast university.

Learning from Peter Thompson (no, not that one)

Leading Queen's during one of the most promising spells in the club's history is manager Peter Thompson, a man whose name is synonymous with the Irish Cup due to the heroics of the former Linfield striker with the same name.

Having been a player at the club for 11 years, Thompson is now in his eighth season as manager. He signed Mulgrew as one of his associate players in summer 2017 after the midfielder impressed while playing against the students for Bangor.

Peter Thompson believes the current Queen's side is the best in his eight-year spell as manager
Peter Thompson believes the current Queen's side is the best in his eight-year spell as manager

Studying for Warrenpoint

Thompson has delved deep into his contacts book to ensure his team is well prepared for Saturday's last-16 match.

"We always have a plan, whether we're playing a team from the top flight or the Amateur League," Thompson explained.

"I've spoken to a few Irish League managers as well as a few scouts so we have plenty of information on Warrenpoint, who we've huge respect for. They are on a great run of form and are playing some of the best football in the Premiership at the minute.

"I've always thought that a team playing another side two divisions below them should win about 3-0, but we'll go there feeling like we can win."

Ben and Jamie Mulgrew have a catch-up on the phone most Saturday evenings. In an ideal world for Ben, they will both be discussing wins and looking forward to Queen's away to Linfield in the quarter-final when they make the call this week.

It would, after all, save mum and dad that extra car journey.

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