Cliftonville captain Stephen Boyd knows what it’s like to be on the losing side in a final – and that’s why he is determined not to have that sinking feeling on Thursday as his side takes on Ballymena in the final of the Sussex Regiment Cup at Deramore (1pm).
It’s the first part of a double bill which will continue with the Linden Cup final between Portadown and Raphoe at Belfast Harlequins’ headquarters (3pm). Cliftonville came down from Senior One last season and they’ll be hoping that Thursday’s game will set them on their way to a league and cup double.
Boyd was on the losing side when Cliftonville lost out in previous finals in the Irish Hockey Trophy and Linden Cup and, when you look at the respective teams’ track records, he could well make it third time lucky on Thursday afternoon.
Cliftonville have beaten Ballymena three times already this season, twice in the league and once in the Sussex Regiment cup group stages.
But the 28-year-old has been around long enough to realize that the formbook frequently goes out the proverbial window on such occasions as this.
But Cliftonville have one other thing in their favour – a lengthy tradition of success back in the glory days when they were one of most feared teams in the country.
The club won virtually every trophy on offer in the days when they were in Ulster hockey’s top flight before suffering a recent relative fall from grace.
It wasn’t so long ago that Cliftonville were competing at the top table and providing players to the senior international side like Greg Sterritt.
Club stalwarts like the ageless Rose brothers, Dixon and Carson remember those halcyon days with affection and the present day skipper is only too aware of the club’s history.
“Yes, I know all about it, that’s for sure, and we are occasionally reminded about the club’s glory days and our aim is to restore them although it will, of course, take time,” Stephen explained.
“But we are finally beginning to reap the benefits of our youth policy which is beginning to come to fruition when you look at our first team squad.
“We have a new coach this season in Nick Johnston who has brought a lot of fresh ideas to the table and we have been doing well in the league so far.
“Yes, we’ve managed to beat Ballymena three times to date but that will mean absolutely nothing on New year’s Day as it’s a cup final and anything can happen.
“From a personal point of view my agenda is to make it third time lucky and make amends for losing in those two previous cup finals but we know it isn’t going to be easy.”
Ballymena will also put their New Year celebrations on hold ahead of their New Year’s Day clash with Cliftonville, and with neither team having appeared previously in the final there will certainly be a new name on the trophy for 2015 and the underdogs will be hoping it’s theirs.
Hockey in the town has had its ups and downs and at one stage, less than two decades ago, the club went out of existence as a discrete entity.
It played under the guise of Antrim fifths before re-forming after an amalgamation with the club’s ladies outfit six years ago.
“We are hoping to emulate the success of the ladies who won the Senior Cup last year and they have been supportive of us and we expect a big crowd to cheer the team on in the decider,” explained club secretary Alister Hanna.
“Having lost the two league games and one in the cup to Cliftonville already this season, we are under no illusions, but will hope to emulate the early pressure that Down exerted in their semi-final, to thwart their pace and movement,” said Ballymena player-coach Andrew Linton.
“Another key factor for us will be to limit the number of penalty corner opportunities, Cliftonville’s big strength which has seen them win games and punish indiscipline from their opponents.
“But our team have steadily progressed this season and have worked hard to learn a new style of play and to improve their fitness levels and getting to the final is testament to the plyers’ ability.”
Portadown will be bidding for their sixth Linden Cup success when they on Senior One rivals Raphoe and the Co Armagh side will start slight favourites.
They have a wealth of experience in their ranks including the likes of goalkeeper Jamie Knipe, Gareth Titler amd Geoff Edgar who have been regular first teamers for several years.
Both teams had a clean sweep of victories in the group stages so everything points to a close fought encounter which could go to the wire.
Ballymena: James Birrell; David McDonald; Andrew Bell; Chris Hogg; Andrew Crooks; Matthew O’Neill; Craig Davis; Mark Allison; Clive Fulton; Tim Lowry; Andrew Lorimer; Alex McKeown; Andrew Linford; Andrew McKelvey; George Tumilson; Andrew McKelvey.
Cliftonville: Mark Holmes; Stephen Boyd; Jonny Campbell; Dave Curragh; Matthew Fraser; Alistair Cardy; Nicolas McKimm; David Hurley; Michael Adams; Jarryd Allen; Michael Eakin; Matthew McParland; Christopher Currie; Scott Ternahan; Evan Patterson; Stuart Anderson; Christopher Arnott; William Booker; Stephen Johnston.
Portadown: Jamie Knipe; Gareth Titler; Dan McKimm; Stuart Kirkland; Zach McClelland; Adam Stevenson; Gregory Croft; Matty Beattie; Jamie Curran; Geoff Edgar; Peter Quaile; Stevie Johnston; Stuart Bell; Jonny Brown; Matty Winter.
Raphoe: Jonathan Rankin; Rodney Bates; Alan Meehan; Matthew Lecky; Simon Gowdie; Lee Stewart; William Kilpatrick; Ian McGonigle; Jonathan Long; Ben Wallace; Kit Reegan; Alex Tinney; Keith Meehan; Paul Stewart; Stephen Cleverly; Lee Coll.