CARLISLE manager Graham Kavanagh will put all friendships on hold when he returns to his former club Sunderland on Saturday in the third round of the FA Cup.
It is a dream tie for Irishman Kavanagh, who won the Championship title as a player with Sunderland in 2007 and has been in charge of Carlisle for less than four months after stepping up from assistant to replace Greg Abbott in September.
Kavanagh was restricted to 15 appearances during his two-and-a-half years as a midfielder for Sunderland before seeing out his playing days at Carlisle, where he arrived initially on loan in 2008.
“On a personal level it’s great for me,” the former Middlesbrough, Stoke, Cardiff and Wigan midfielder said.
“I still live over that way and Sunderland is a club I have close to my heart.
“I still look out for their results and a lot of my friends are Mackems.
“I got a whole load of text messages within minutes of the draw coming through so there’s definitely a lot of interest.
“It will be a proud moment when I’m stood in the dugout and waiting for kick off. It’s a wonderful venue and the fans were unbelievable with me when I was there.
“I didn’t play as regularly as I would have liked because I picked up an injury about six months into it, but they were top drawer whenever I pulled the shirt on.
“Having said all of that, I’m going there to try to win. It’s not just about enjoying the experience, it’s about trying to do our job and get our club through to the next round.”
The Cumbrians needed a replay to squeeze past non-league side Boreham Wood in the first round before clinching their money-spinning third-round clash at the Stadium of Light with an impressive 3-2 win against Brentford.
Former Sunderland defender Pascal Chimbonda returned to Carlisle’s starting line-up in their New Year’s Day defeat at Crewe, while one-time Black Cats trainee Liam Noble is expected to line up in midfield for the Cumbrians at the Stadium of Light.
“The chances of us winning are probably slim,” Kavanagh said. “But it’s about what we do on the day. It’s the FA Cup and it throws up all kinds of surprises every year. There’s no reason why we can’t be one of them.
“I think our players will relish the environment and we have a number of Sunderland and Newcastle fans in the dressing room who will be looking forward to it for their own reasons.
“Games like this are a chance to put the club on the map. If you go there and get a win then people up and down the length of the country talk about it.
“All I ask is that people get behind us and support what we’re trying to do.
“If this game is the one which sparks more interest then we will certainly try to put on a performance which makes us all feel very proud.”