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Marc of a winner

3rd June 2016

Marc Smyth scored three goals in four years in the Diamond, yet one swish of his right boot made him a hero forever.

In 114 games for the Club the gifted defender, now Head of Youth at Cliftonville in Northern Ireland, forged a reputation as a rock-solid stopper.

His most memorable goal didn’t even register in his scoring column but it will never be forgotten by those with Airdrieonians in their hearts.

November 16, 2008, the Alba Challenge Cup Final against Ross County had surged into extra-time with the teams locked at 2-2 and the penalty shootout loomed.

For some it was time to take a step back from the limelight, the fear of failure from the spot gnawing at them.

Yet when caught up with Marc on his A Licence coaching badge at St Andrews this week he smiled: “I always wanted to hit the fifth penalty, I had it in my mind that I could be the hero.

“I read their keeper Tony Bullock’s movements throughout the other kicks and I was always confident I’d score. I placed it low into the left hand corner. Jubilation!

“If I am honest now a ball came in the box with five minutes left and I handled it. That was a stick-on penalty and I thought I had cost us the game but the ref Calum Murray didn’t give it. I owe him one!

“I could so easily have been the villain of the piece but I ended up the hero just as I’d dreamed it. The Alba Cup Final will always stick in my mind as my outstanding Airdrie memory.” 

Eight years on from that Final Marc is embarking on the next chapter in his football career.

Dogged by injuries in the past two seasons, he has hung up his boots at the age of 33 to focus on breeding the next generation of Cliftonville stars.

He will use the memories of his own glory days with the Diamonds to fuel him and he recalled: “The gaffer Kenny Black took us away the night before and I remember the morning of the game watching team-mates I respected being given the news that they would be dropped for the Final.

“That’s the bittersweet side of football, as good as the memory is for me there will be a tinge of unhappiness for others when they recall it.

“The game itself was dramatic in that we equalised with just 10 minutes left through Stephen McKenna to take it into extra-time.

“Then they scored an own goal through Andy Dowie and I thought we were winning the Cup but they hauled it back and it went to penalties.

“I remember that we went back to the boardroom with the Cup afterwards and it was great to see everyone celebrating.

“There are people there who I know put their heart and soul into the Club.

“I remain in touch with Airdrie and look for every result and I will always have a lot of time for Ann Marie Ballantyne.

“She helps all the players with their problems and I respect her as a person, her heart is with that club always.

“It was a proud moment for people like Ann Marie and the town itself that night was brilliant, you have to savour those times. How often will I score the winner in a Cup Final?” 

This week Marc was a popular and respected member of an A Licence coaching group that included the likes of ex-Hibernian defender Chris Hogg and former Raith Rovers winger Tony Rougier.

Over a fascinating week in the Fife sunshine they studied and grafted on the training field in a bid to end a year-long quest with their UEFA A Licences tucked away in their kitbags.

Marc is upbeat about the future after calling time on his playing days and he confessed: “I felt I had to retire because the injuries have been haunting me for two years now.

“It catches up with you and at 33 I have won eight trophies in four years there.

“I didn’t want to sign for £200 a week in my pocket, I can’t lie to people and just take the money if I am not committed and able to give of my best.” 

Marc has followed the developments in the Airdrieonians Academy intently and hailed the return to full-time football and the signing of nine young players on two-year Modern Apprentice contracts as major steps forward for the Club.

He stressed: “That’s the way true community clubs have to go now in my eyes and the chairman and the club deserve credit for the vision they are showing there.

“At Cliftonville the task is the same as Airdrie, it is about recruiting players. managing teams and I have to build community relations and all the rest.

“Our coaches, like those in the Airdrieonians Academy, are volunteers but I am a hard taskmaster.

“I don’t care if they are volunteers I want them to be the best coach they can be.

“I am demanding but I find the coaches like that and they buy into it. Our kids are in four times a week now.

“They train twice, play once and then have strength and conditioning from 14s upwards.

“We may be part-time but we have a full-time attitude. I hope the Airdrieonians fans remember me like that, no half-measures!” 

Interview: IAIN KING

TOMORROW: Marc Smyth on his debt to Kenny Black only on

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