Banbridge will start hot favourites to lift the GOC Estate Agents Kirk Cup when they face Cookstown in the final at Comber Road on Boxing Day (Friday, 3.15) - at least that’s the theory.
Bann will be aiming to make it 18 wins out of 19 for the season, their only blip coming in the recent 4-4 IHL draw with Lisnagarvey a couple of weeks ago.
Cookstown’s form, in contrast, has been a little less spectacular, and they have already lost three times to Friday’s opponents this season.
But the Kirk Cup has a habit of throwing up upsets as Banbridge know to their cost while Cookstown were on the right end of one as recently as last month.
No one gave them too much chance of beating Garvey in the semi-final at Shaw’s Bridge but beat them they did in a smash and grab act if ever there was one.
Trailing 1-0 with just 48 seconds remaining they equalized at the death and then grabbed a ‘silver goal’ winner less than two minutes later in extra time.
Cast your mind back 12 months or so and it was Bann’s turn to be the victims of another felony, in the eyes of their supporters at least.
On that occasion, it was Annadale who were the shock troopers as they scored on the break to reach the final after being under the cosh for most of the game during which they lost the penalty corner count 10-1.
In last year’s final, the Dale were given next to no chance of beating Garvey on their own patch at Comber Road.
But, after another backs against the wall display, they came out on top although it took the lottery of a penalty shoot for them to out to defy the odds after a 1-1 draw.
Friday’s showpiece will see the teams meet again after Bann overcome the Co Tyrone outfit in the group stages of the Kirk Cup, the Premier League and the Irish Senior Cup.
All four of those games were at Havelock Park and the teams’ most recent meeting in the league saw Bann come from behind to secure a thrilling 5-2 victory.
While Bann have Stephen Dowds - who has scored more than 40 goals this season - as their talisman, in Greg Allen Cookstown have another prolific striker who is capable of unlocking the tightest of defences.
Goalkeepers can also win matches and two of the best in the business will be on display on Friday with the experienced Ian Hughes in between the sticks for Cookstown and Gareth Lennox, man-of-the-match in last season’s IHL final, his opposite number.
Yes Banbridge will start favourites but the Kirk Cup, more than any other domestic competition, has had its fair share of upsets in the past so write off Cookstown at your peril!
SQUADS FOR FRIDAY’S FINAL:
Banbridge:Gareth Lennox; Timmy Watt; Kyle Marshall; Jonny McKee; Peter Brown; Matthew Bell; Bruce McCandless; Stephen Dowds; Jamie Wright; Eugene Magee (capt); Phillip Brown; Neil Gilmore; Fraser Mills; Ross Beattie; Dane Ward; Drew Carlisle; Hugh McShane; Aaron Reid; Owen Magee; Peter Bingham.
Cookstown:Ian Hughes;Matthew Rollins; Raymond Miller; Ryan Millar; Godfrey Irwin; Paul Thompson; Ewan Butler; Simon Todd; Andrew Barbour; Mark Crooks; Jon Ames; Andrew McWhirter; Greg Allen (c); Andy Smyth; Stuart Smyth; Keith Black; Dan Crooks; Mark Rooney; Timmy Sloan; Josh Anderson.
Umpires: Colin Hutchinson and Russell Donaldson