Ballymena will be looking to pop the bubbly tonight at Larne Bowls Club when they face Belmont in the final of the Private Greens League Senior Cup.
By their own high standards, it’s been a poor season for the Sky Blues -- a club that has won the Division One title for the past three years.
Even though they managed to hang on to the tails of Dunbarton and Belmont for much of the league campaign, a shock defeat at Ulster Transport last Saturday snuffed out any lingering hopes of a late revival.
“The cup final gives us an opportunity to salvage what has been a disappointing season . . . our only chance of winning any silverware,” said Ballymena’s Graham Wilson.
“In saying that, Belmont have won the PGL Cup for the past two seasons, so they’ll be in no mood to surrender it. We still had an outside chance of retaining our league title. We had a good win over Dunbarton recently . . . and we still have to play Belmont.
“But the defeat at Jordanstown ended that. We were, however, missing quite a few players.”
Ballymena are hoping to have Stephen Shields and Andy Duncan back for the final, but Andy Kyle again misses out due to holidays.
“We’ll give it our best shot,” he added. “We haven’t won the PGL Cup since 2010, so perhaps it will be our year.”
Ballymena appear to have reserved their best form for this tournament, having eliminated
Northern Ireland Civil Service, Larne, Dunbarton and Willowfield on their way to the final.
Their opponents, who still harbour hopes -- albeit it slim -- of wrestling the PGL Division One title away from the grasp of Dunbarton, took out Cavehill, Ewarts, Falls and Old Bleach.
Belmont are past masters in this particular competition, having lifted the trophy on 12 previous occasions . . . Ballymena are on the hunt of only their seventh success.
Belmont’s Davy Hamilton said: “It’s a big game, it’s just a pity we’ll not have a full squad on show. We’ll be missing Paul Daly and Chris Allen for final.”
The Belfast club, in fact, face a defining 48 hours to their season. After their PGL final appearance, Belmont will go into action 48 hours later against Dunbarton in the semi final of the IBA Irish Cup at Pickie -- the winners earning a slot against Old Bleach in next week’s showcase final.
“We will be even more depleted for that game as Jason Kerr will be attending a wedding,” added Hamilton. “The semi final was scheduled for last week, but due to the postponement of the NICS versus Dunbarton game earlier in the tournament, the semi final was pushed back.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our boys arranged their working commitments and holidays around last week’s date. They are now unavailable for the rearranged fixtures which is a shame.
“Nevertheless, we’ll go out and do our best.”
Meanwhile, Bangor require one point from their home game against Donaghadee on Saturday to guarantee them the NIBA Division One title.
The Seasiders approach the game 13-and-a-half clear of nearest rivals Whitehead -- the bubbly could be popped well before the finish!
IBA Senior Cup semi final: Dunbarton v Belmont.
IBA Junior Cup final: Coleraine v Dungiven.
NIBA Division One: Whitehead v Lisnagarvey, Portadown v Castle, Bangor v Donaghadee, Banbridge v Dundonald, Balmoral v Divis. Division Two: Rathfriland v Newtownabbey, Dungannon v Dromore, Carrick v Whitehead B, Lurgan v Balmoral B, Londonderry Park v Sydenham. Division Three: Ormeau v Banbridge B, Ulster Maple Leaf v Carrick B, Markethill v Cloughey, Clarendon v Curran, Bessbrook v Musgrave.
Division Four: St Stephen’s v Newcastle, North Down v Queen’s Island, Finaghy v Holywood, Lisnagarvey B v Glengormley, Annalong v Antrim.
Division Five: Newry v Lurgan B, Divis B v BETS, Dromore B v Rathfriland B, 1st Ballymacarrett v Lagan Valley, Warrenpoint v Portadown B.
Division Six: Donaghadee B v McQuistion Memorial, Windsor v 9th Old Boys, Castle B v Ballynafeigh, 58th Old Boys v Gilnahirk, Curran B v Musgrave B.
Private Greens League Senior Division One: Ulster Transport v Old Bleach, Larne v Ballymena, Falls v Willowfield.
Division Two: Cliftonville v Comber, Belmont Park v Mossley, Salisbury v Ards, Hilden v Castleton, Shorts v NICS.
Division Three: Ballymena Park v Albert Foundry, PSNI v Belfast, Shaftesbury v Knock, Saintfield v Gallaher, Malone v North Belfast, Cavehill v Nortel.
Private Greens League Junior Division One: Mossley v Belmont, Ballymena v Larne, Downpatrick v Falls, Old Bleach v Ulster Transport, Dunbarton v Pickie.
Division Two: Comber v Cliftonville, Willowfield v Shaftesbury, Ards v Ewarts, Castleton v Hilden, Forth River v Belmont Park.
Provincial Senior League: Dunluce v Kilrea, City of Derry v Ballymoney,, Portrush v Cookstown, Portglenone v Letterkenny, Ballycastle v Coleraine.