Queen’s University free-kick specialist Mark Prenter is well used to delivering aces.
Prenter – the two-goal hero in Queen’s quarter-final victory over Bangor – is preparing for another Irish Cup acid test this weekend.
Ballymena United stand between the students and a fairy tale spot in next month’s showpiece decider.
And Prenter is hoping he can add to his goal tally when the Championship 2 side take on Premiership opposition at the Oval on Saturday.
The 28-year old striker was a top tennis player in a previous incarnation and once had the distinction of sharing a court with one of the sport’s pin-up girls, Russian star Anna Kournikova.
Prenter encountered her on a trip to the famous Nick Bollitieri camp in Florida as a 10- year-old, although he admits he was too young then to appreciate what he was seeing.
“To be honest I didn’t really know who she was but people were saying that she was going to be a star of the future and that’s how it turned out,” said Prenter.
The Queen’s hitman, who gave up tennis to concentrate on football only four years ago, didn’t quite reach the dizzy heights that Kournikova achieved but he was a talented amateur.
He won interprovincial titles with Ulster at Under 16 and Under 18 level and shared success in the men’s doubles at the prestigious Boat Club tournament in 2010.
Prenter was also a regular member of the Ulster senior team until the same year when he decided to quit tennis in order to concentrate on football.
“I played both sports in my younger days, football for Rosario and tennis for the Hawarden club in east Belfast before I joined Lisburn Distillery and Carrick Rangers where I played alongside my brother Paul,” he explained.
“I was also lucky enough to play for County Down at the Milk Cup when (Linfield and former Northern Ireland striker) Peter Thompson was in the team and I remember being up against James Milner when he was playing for Leeds United at the tournament.
“I was fortunate to be offered a place at the Queen’s Football Academy when I began studying at the university as an 18 year-old and at that stage I was playing football in the winter and tennis in the summer.”
At first glance there is not a lot in common between the two sports but the law graduate says that when it comes to taking free kicks he is in a tennis-style mindset.
“I love the banter that is part and parcel of a team sport like football but I also enjoyed the individualism associated with tennis.” Prenter added.
“It’s you against your opponent and you are in total control and it’s a bit like that when you are taking a free kick in the danger area as it is you pitting your wits against the goalkeeper.”
Prenter managed to outwit the Bangor ‘keeper on two occasions in the quarter-finals and he would dearly love to get on the scoresheet on Saturday.
“Obviously Ballymena will be a big step up in class for us and you’d expect them to beat us nine times out of ten so all we can do is hope this will be the tenth time.” he continued.
“It’s going to be a massive occasion for the club as it’s the first time we’ve got to the semi finals in our 104-year history but we will be sticking to our usual pre-match build up which has got us this far - scrambled eggs and toast in the Students’ Union.”
“We are good friends off the pitch as well as on it, our team spirit is fantastic and I think that helped us beat Bangor.”