COOKSTOWN’S dreams of a scintillating cup feat, unique in the club’s history, will begin on Sunday when they take on Banbridge at Hatrick Park in Ulster Kirk Cup final.
The Reds are the reigning champions having beaten the County Down men in last year’s showpiece, but Banbridge will go into this year’s final as favourites to foil Cookstown’s aim of three Kirk Cup wins in a row.
“Bann have beaten us twice this year in the league,” said Captain Godfrey Irwin. “At Coolnafranky the McCandless boys were on fire from the short corner routine and then they overpowered us at Hatrick Park by 4-0. That should give them the tag of favourites but that suits us down to the ground.
“We are very much at home in this final and have been underdogs before. We have won it three times in the last five years and obviously beat them last time around, mostly because they did not really turn up in the final.
“Not that we can rely on them fluffing their lines under pressure again,” the skipper said. “However, in our two games this year we have been without key men and that may have proven the difference.”
Cookstown hope to be able to call upon the services of Greg Allen, Keith Black, Stephen Sloan and Ian Hughes in time for the final, but whatever the team they are used to big matches and will not freeze in front of a big crowd.
“Being underdogs is not a new experience for us,” said coach Stephen Cuddy. “In 2006 we beat Lisnagarvey and were called underdogs; in 2001 we beat Instonians - who won the Irish Senior Cup - and were called underdogs; and then last year the same. We were underdogs in the semi-final this season against hot favourites Garvey and won 3-1. It just goes to show you that in hockey any team on any given day can beat anyone else.
“We hope we will be able to give Bann problems again on Saturday and I am very pleased at the way the forwards have gone. Greg Allen, Timmy Smyth, Gareth Cuddy - they have all got on the score sheet in the last five or six weeks and Thomas Hutchinson has been great at short corners, which I have been very, very pleased with.
“Don’t forget we lost some big players at the start of the season and we thought this year was going to be pretty tough. We might have lost to North Down and Kilkeel but came away with wins and then, flip that on its head, we outplayed Lisnagarvey in the IHL but lost and for 55 minutes were much better than Bann at Coolnafranky and still lost 4-1.
“Having said that I know that we have enough quality players to win, we just need to click on the day. At certain times this season we have and I have been more than happy. I just hope we can bring it all together over the next two weekends.
“Three Kirk Cups in a row would really be something which, five or six years ago, we could not have dreamed of doing,” said the coach. “It is always a great experience to play in front of a large crowd and with Bann being so well supported, like ourselves, it promises to be a great game.”