For a seventh time in nine years, Cookstown are gearing up for an exciting Kirk Cup final clash, Banbridge the opposition at 3.15pm on Boxing Day at Lisnagarvey.
Cookstown will be hoping to win the cup for the seventh time in the club’s history, four of those past six triumphs having come since 2006.
Coach Stephen Cuddy is revelling in the build-up to the festive encounter.
“It’s traditionally the biggest cup final in Ulster hockey, and because it’s held on a holiday it always attracts a huge crowd” he explained.
“Out of all our Kirk Cup final appearances, I’d say we’d have only been favorites maybe two of those times.
“We’re used to playing the underdog role, so we’ll go into the game with nothing to fear in that sense” assured the Cookstown coach.
One player who is all too familiar with the competition is club veteran Andy Barbour. Barbour won 86 caps and scored 12 goals for Ireland, before international retirement in 2008. He will be playing in his ninth final, having first featured in the 1998/99 decider.
“Andy will be using all his experience going into the match and it’s great to be able to call upon that” stressed Cuddy, citing some other top performers whose contributions will be crucial if Cookstown hope to triumph.
“Raymond Miller is our top goalscorer, and he’s in great form. Also, Mark Crooks can be the best player on the pitch on his day.”
The Reds have a couple of injury doubts, with Cuddy revealing that late fitness tests will be required to assess if some players are fit to play.
“Greg Allen is an injury doubt with a hip problem. He has been great for us all year, so if he doesn’t come through it would be a huge loss.”
Banbridge are formidable opponents with a peerless record this season. The Havelock Park men have won all eleven games so far, and are also flying high in the Irish Hockey league with two wins out of three.
“They’re popularly regarded as the best team in Ireland. Striker Stephen Dowd has scored over forty goals, so he’s a big threat. But we’re not going out to stop Banbridge from playing. We’ll be playing the ‘Cookstown way” says Cuddy.
Cookstown will be hoping it’s third time lucky, losing to Banbridge 5-3 in league, and 3-1 in Kirk Cup group section.
Despite that loss, Cookstown have been impressive in the group stage, with huge 7-0 and 8-2 wins over Annadale and Newry Olympic, sending out a strong signal of intent.
The team is boosted by the terrific performance away to league table-toppers Monkstown two weeks ago. The Reds led in a 1-1 draw, a pulsating encounter, and were slightly unlucky not to leave with a win.
“The signs were there that we can mix it with them. We really just need to turn up on the day” warns Cuddy.