Kirk Cup Boxing Day Final Preview

This Boxing Day sees Bann seek to complete the 2nd leg of a domestic grand slam when they take on Cookstown in the final of GOC Estate Agents Kirk Cup final at Lisnagarvey at 3.15pm. They already have the Anderson Cup safely tucked away in their Havelock Park clubhouse and they will be seeking to turn their early season dominance into more silverware in what is traditionally known as Ulster hockey’s big day out. Especially now as it has been coupled with the final of the ladies Denman Ulster Shield involving Pegasus and Ards which will precede the mens final.

Bann backed by Swallow Groupage will be appearing in the final for the first time in several years having fallen at the semi-final stage for the last two years. The locals will tackling Cookstown for the fourth time this season having already overcome the Co Tyrone outfit in earlier group stages of the GOC Estate Agents Kirk Cup, the GOC Estate Agents Premier League, and the Irish Senior Cup. All these games have been at Bann’s fortress Havelock Park however their most recent meeting in the league was a thrilling affair with Bann storming back in the second half to secure a thrilling 5-2 victory.

Cookstown will be boasted by their recent semi-final overtime victory against favourites Lisnagarvey at Shaws Bridge but they must have had one eye in the final as they surprising lost their last game at home to Instonians. With the experienced coaching team of Stephen Cuddy and Michael Haycock in charge they will be a tough nut to crack for the locals and are very capable of upsetting the odds as their semi-final victory clearly demonstrates.

In Greg Allen Cookstown have one of the deadliest forwards in Ulster and Irish hockey and he has enjoyed previous successes against Bann and the locals defence will need to watch him for the entire 70 minutes. However he has picked up a recent knock and Cookstown will be hoping he recovers to play a full part in the final. Cookstown also include in their ranks Ian Hughes, brother of footballer Ian Hughes in goal, defenders Ewan Butler and Keith Black, ex Irish international Andy Barbour in midfield and the enigmatic Stuart Smyth in attack so they possess the armoury to beat a Bann side that has been leading the way in Ulster and Irish hockey so far this season.

Bann will be aiming for their 18th victory out of a possible 19 games with their own blemish being a draw against Garvey in a recent IHL game. With Stephen Dowds having notched up over 40 goals already this season Bann will be clear favourites to pick up the famous old trophy. Bann’s squad heavily weighed down with international experience will still be seeking to regain their early season form as some recent performances have seen them struggle to find their rhythm.

Mark Tumilty has injury concerns over 2 of his younger talented stars as Johnny McKee and Neil Gilmore are both carrying leg injuries with McKee’s having occurred during Banbridge Academy’s recent thrilling victory over Wallace in the McCullough Cup final ironically at Boxing Day’s final venue, Lisnagarvey. However Tumilty will be boasted by the return to action of Owen Magee and his availability coupled with the return of his older brother Eugene will provide Tumilty with numerous options in the midfield and forward departments.

For the neutral a thrilling game is in prospect against two attack minded teams and coaches and certainly Comber Road in Hillsborough will be no place for the faint hearted on Boxing Day. Cookstown will come with a clear campaign to hit Bann on the break while Bann will look to steam roller them with their high tempo passing game. The bookies will say Bann while Cookstown will have other ideas and who knows Havelock Park could well be the place to be on Boxing Night!