On the Saturday, Lincoln City became the first non-league club in 103 years to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. 20,000 people. Turf Moor. Premier League opposition.
The following Tuesday, they were at the Eon Visual Media Stadium to take on North Ferriby United. The 1-0 win was enough to maintain their lead at the top of the National League.
Drimnagh’s Alan Power has been at Lincoln for six seasons now. He knows all about reality checks. He arrived just after the club tumbled into non-league football. There have been plenty of low ebbs but this season has been something to savour.
Six points clear. Promotion to League Two in sight. And a trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal later today. Still, everything has been muted so far. There’s work to be done.
“We’ve achieved nothing yet,” says the 29-year-old midfielder.
“After beating Burnley, the gaffer told us we had an hour to celebrate and then our heads turned back to the North Ferriby game. It’s different ends of the spectrum but we had to come through that as a group. Maybe other teams expected us to fall off because we had the glamour of the cup but we stayed right on it and we need to keep on it.”
Power has found a home in Lincoln. He started his professional life at Nottingham Forest but the extent of his first-team opportunities were condensed into one appearance in a Football League Trophy defeat to Peterborough in September 2007. A 36-year-old Neil Lennon replaced him after 74 minutes. Some of his other team-mates from that night have scaled the dizzying heights: Wes Morgan, Kris Commons. For Power, it was the road more travelled.
“After Forest I went to Hartlepool for two years and it was the first time I lived on my own and was earning a decent wage,” he says.
“And I don’t think I took advantage of what was in front of me in that moment of my life. I didn’t apply myself properly to football, possibly.”
He struggled at Hartlepool, making just eight appearances in two seasons. But he was rescued by Justin Edinburgh at Rushden and Diamonds, a stint Power says “reformed” his career. When they went into administration, Edinburgh recommended his snarling Irish terrier to Steve Tilson at Lincoln. And more than 200 appearances later — in the unforgiving, relentless and uncompromising environment of the lower leagues — he finally gets his day in the sun.
Victories over Ipswich and Brighton preceded the high-profile scalping of the Clarets last month but nothing will compare to today. And facing Arsenal couldn’t have come at a better time too. Their confidence is low, the push against Arsene Wenger at an all-time high.
“We’re looking into how we can affect Arsenal,” he says.
“We have to look at every little detail. They’re going through a rocky time right now. Mentality plays a big part in football and I don’t think they’re in a good place at the minute. We need to try and capitalise on that and use everything we can to try and get a foothold in the game. One thing we pride ourselves on is our togetherness and it doesn’t look like Arsenal have that at the moment. They’ll come out with all guns blazing but I feel like they have to win the FA Cup now to salvage their season. We’re going to go to the Emirates and try and win the game. That’s the way we play. If we try to contain Arsenal for 90 minutes — like some teams will try and do — you’ll just get battered. We just have to impose ourselves on the game and play our own way”
The cup has been especially good to Power this season. He scored in the early rounds against Altrincham and from the penalty spot against Brighton.
Famously that day, he celebrated with the ‘billionaire strut’ made famous by an old childhood pal of his: Conor McGregor.
“He used to live in Crumlin and played for them at my age-group but I think it was their ‘B’ team. It was only for a couple of months. He wasn’t a bad player, to be honest, but he wasn’t at our level! He chose the right path in the end.”
And, if Power finds the net again today, are we likely to get another glimpse of the celebration? “100%. If I score at the Emirates, I’ll be strutting through the game, I think. I might just stay in that mode for the rest of it — no matter what the score is!”
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