Can anyone stop Harryville from retaining the Junior Cup?
When it comes to this year’s Junior Cup, there is no question of who carries the favourites’ tag.
Harryville Homers are the current holders and have shown no sign of buckling under the weight of expectation as they endeavour to make a successful defence of the most coveted trophy in Junior football.
The men from the Ballymena Saturday Morning League are flying the flag for north Antrim again, and look primed to do the business in Division One as well as having the odds stacked in their favour for the big knockout competition too.
Currently poised second in the table, six points behind their old rivals Carniny Rangers, they have a 100 per cent record over their 14 games.
They have already firmly established themselves as one of the very best Junior football sides in Northern Ireland, but Robert Duddy will want to push his players on to even further greatness, with the aim of not only matching the two-in-a-row of Strathroy Harps (the team who thumped them 3-0 in the 2013 final), but to surpass it in a bid to equal Immaculata’s as yet unrivalled three successive Junior Cups at the end of the last decade.
NAFL Division 2B side Ardoyne WMC were cast aside 3-0 in the quarter-finals by the north Antrim outfit, so the form guide might suggest that a Division 2C opponent would cause even less of an issue.
Harryville would be foolish to underestimate the threat posed by fellow Belfast side Lower Shankill in the semi-final, however.
Time and again, Stephen Paul’s team have shown their ability to shock and surprise higher-ranked opposition, particularly so in the Clarence Cup, as established Intermediate level clubs such as St Pat’s YM and Dromara Village will attest. High-flying progressive side Tullycarnet were another to fall by Lower Shankill’s wayside.
Next Tuesday night at Seaview, they will have the opportunity to make a statement against the biggest scalp-takers in amateur football at present, Immaculata, in the semi-final of the Clarence Cup, but a win over the Homers would really lay down the gauntlet.
Rosemount Rec manager Mark Miller will have a fantastic marker on his CV when he looks back at his first season in management now, no matter what happens. But the former Armagh City and Ards Rangers striker will - who still has a key role on the playing staff - really would love to top it all off with the piece of silverware everyone wants.
If he’s honest, he would admit he never expected to see the Greyabbey men this far in the competition. Working hard to bring players in and re-introduce others who had previously left the club and his coaching staff have undertaken a rebuilding process, and are reaping immediate rewards.
This was the first season they had ever reached the quarter-finals, and now a tie with Hill Street stands in their way of a final that forever lie in Rosemount folklore.
As the only remaining representatives of the Mid Ulster League, Hill Street manager David Wilson is proud to have the 1996 and 2005 competition winners back in the conversation once again.
The Lurgan-based supremo has always set a second successive MUFL Division 1 title as his ultimate aim for this campaign, but with the club needing to win every one of their handful of games just to bring themselves into the reckoning, it may yet to turn out to be a bridge too far.
Indeed, the Junior Cup probably represents their biggest opportunity to land some silverware this year.
After all, it is only two games from glory...
Belfast Telegraph Digital