Saturday will not be the first time that veteran goalkeeper John Connolly faces Crusaders in an Irish Cup final but this time around he will hope to come out on the winning side.

Connolly was a member of the Cliftonville side that lost out 1-0 to North Belfast rivals Crusaders in 2009 and he then missed out on the 2014 final when with Glenavon due to injury, his place taken by former Mallards James McGrath as the Lurgan Blues defeated Ballymena United. So to be back in another final is a dream come true.

"I played in the final ten years ago and that was against Crusaders as well but we lost out that day and I also missed out on one in 2014 with Glenavon through injury so it is a fairytale to be there now and I'm looking forward to it," he said.

Connolly was one of manager Harry McConkey's first signings last summer as he looked to stabilise the club after relegation from the Premiership. It coincided with a difficult period in Connolly's life after losing his father but the goalkeeper is delighted that he made the decision to come to Ferney Park.

"It has been brilliant. It has been a breathe of fresh air for myself. Whenever the gaffer had got in touch with me my Da had just passed away and I didn't know what I was going to do in terms of football or anything else. The environment that I'm in here though has helped me so much, it is a great dressing room to be in, the lads are brilliant and the management is second to none," he added.

The season though did get off to a tough start as the Mallards struggled in the opening months of the season but the goalkeeper was always confident that they would turn things around.

"We got off to a great start at home with a 3-0 win but then everything that could go against us went against us. We didn't complain about it though, we had a few injuries and we never really had a settled team in that run. We were losing games by the odd goal or losing to a deflected goal but lucky enough we turned it around. We had every confidence though that we could turn it around and the turn around has been fantastic. To get to the top six was a tough ask but we did that and the bonus ball then was to get to the Irish Cup final," he said.

No that an appearance in the Cup Final was even in the thoughts of the Mallards when they started out in the competition.

"Even halfway through the season when the Irish Cup came around you were just thinking about the first round and getting past PSNI, and what you want after that is a home draw which we got against Carrick and thankfully we got through that and then you are into getting the Premiership sides." Next up was a quarter final meeting with Dungannon which was followed by a semi-final showdown with Warrenpoint and although it required penalties on both days, Connolly is in no doubt that the Mallards deserved to progress.

"It wasn't a Linfield, a Crusaders or whoever but they were still good Premiership teams. Dungannon were on a run under Kris Lindsay since he took over and going to their place made it more difficult but we had every confidence. It wasn't one of those games where we were hoping to go through, we believed that we would get through and one the day I think we deserved it.

"Then when we got to the semi-final, it was again a case of believing that we could do it and again I thought we deserved it on the day."

And now it is into the final against a Crusaders side who will be red hot favourites to lift the cup. Connolly though is eyeing an upset.

"We will have our homework done, we will have a gameplan and we will got there full of confidence and hopefully on the day we can surprise a few people who think it will be easy for Crusaders. We are really looking forward and believe that we can do it," he concluded.