Junior Football: Steeled up for festive humdinger
The last time Ballyclare Comrades met Dundela in the Steel & Sons Cup final, was back in 1961.
Comrades won 4-3 as they swept the boards at intermediate level and reached the semi-finals of the Irish Cup, losing 4-2 to the 'magnificent seven' Linfield team.
If next Tuesday morning's Steel final is anything like 46 years ago, then the Seaview spectators are in for a taste of Christmas joy.
Dundela were last in the decider in 2005, losing out to Crusaders. Current manager Mark Snodden was the physio that day.
Snodden who took over from Mervyn Bell - how strange to see the Duns in a final without Mervyn in charge - has two winner's medals under his belt.
But this is his first final as a manager and the same can be said for his opposite number Jamesie Kirk who won his brace of medals with the Comrades in 1984 and '86.
"It's been a long time since that last appearance. The Steel Cup has always been special to the people of Ballyclare and I've no doubt they will be out in force next Tuesday.
"I am very confident about my team, most of whom are young and have no fear of such occasions.
"We have lost twice to Dundela this season and they are definitely more experienced and are probably slight favourites," said Jamsie.
"I will not be putting the full team out on Saturday against Ards but it's a match in which goalkeeper Ian Mannus will have to prove his fitness after breaking a finger in training.
"If he does not make it then Alan Huxley will come in."
And what a day that would prove to be for Alan who of course, had six seasons at Wilgar Park where he won several honours.
Ian, whose brother Paul is in the Dundela squad, was a member of the Glentoran II's side which lost to Bangor three years ago.
One Ballyclare player who will miss the occasion, is Craig Gilmour who has been suffering from a long-term illness. No doubt the Reds will be wanting to win for him as much as anything else.
Snodden has no major team problems and he too, has a warm-up match against Lurgan Celtic.
"I don't put much store in the two matches which we won in the league, both 1-0. One of them was very close and having watched Ballyclare beat Bangor, it should be a close affair."
" We all know what cup finals are like. Anything can happen and it simply comes down to who is up for it on the day."
Eastwoods' go 9-10 your pick to win outright while McGranaghan's have the Duns at 11-8 (90mins), with the Comrades 15-8 and the draw 9-4. The draw is a good call as is a 1-1 scoreline at 11-2.
Dundela striker Matt Burrows has been on fire this season and is worth a shout (9-2) to hit the opening goal as is Ballyclare's Kyle Agnew at 8-1. A wager on both will land a profit at a minimum 7-4 to total stake.
No goalscorer is 17-2 the same price as a 0-0 draw, but the former is the wiser move if fancying a scoreless draw as own goals don't count in the goalscorer's market. Thus, a no-goalscorer bet is a winner if the game ends 1-0 courtesy of an own-goal.
Loughgall hold all the aces in Radcliffe Cup encounter
Holders Coagh United will make a determined bid to hold on to the Mid-Ulster Bob Radcliffe Cup on Boxing Day (11.30am).
But their task is monumental in that they take on high-flying unbeaten Loughgall who also have the advantage of staging the final.
Coagh bridged a 19-year gap when successful 12 months ago against Banbridge Town and this year have survived two penalty shoot outs and were 'beaten' in the semi-finals by Dungannon Swifts Reserves.
However, a successful protest against the Swifts using an ineligible player, was upheld and they now find themselves back in the final.
Previously Coagh had lost deciders to Loughgall (2002), Armagh (2004) and Dungannon (2006) while in 2003 the went out to Loughgall in the semi-finals.
In 1991 they defeated Loughgall 2-1 in the second round of the competition when current Loughgall boss Niall Currie was in goals.
Coagh's Mark McMenemy played in that match and returns to Loughgall full of optimism that his side can win again.
"It's how we perform on the day and of course you need that little bit of luck.
"Last year we fought hard and got the result, it's a final and anything can happen on the day, " he said.
Coagh joint-manger Stephen Uprichard is well aware of the task and see his side as very much the underdogs.
"Loughgall have quality players at this level, having come down from the Irish League last season.
"They are very strong, physical and well drilled."
Currie who has already lifted the Carnegie League Cup this month, is taking nothing for granted against a team that has been in the last four finals.
" Confidence is good but there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance and there is no way I will be letting any arrogance creep into our squad," he warned.
"We know how good Coagh can be on their day. They are a fantastic cup team and have proven that by reaching the final of this competition in each of the last three seasons.
"All the pressure is on us and we have everything to lose if our attitude is not right."
But the facts speak for themselves. In two previous meetings this season, Loughall have won both, 2-0 and 3-0.
Loughgall get taste of senior action again ...
It was a bitter-sweet JJB Irish Cup fifth round draw for the intermediate clubs.
While most of them were looking for a huge pay-day by being pitted against one of the top senior clubs, it didn't work out that way.
But on the positive front, with inter-league clashes and four all senior clashes, it means a number of minnows will be one step away from the quarter-finals.
Loughgall, riding high at the top of the First Division and unbeaten this season, have a cracking tie with Linfield going to Lakeview Park.
The Blues have found it tough there before, and while being strong favourites to win, it certainly makes for the most interesting tie on Janaury 12.
Abbey Villa, who will feature in the Amateur League's Border Cup final this day week, go to Banbridge Town.
It gives them a chance of going one step further, having been one of three teams still there from the first round entry stage.
They went to Moyola last week and disposed of them in comprehensive fashion, having earlier taken care of Dergview and Lurgan Celtic.
The other two are Newington YC who have an unenviable trip to Portadown and Downpatrick at home to Amateur League Premier Section derby rivals, Killyleagh.
The two have not met yet in the league but do so at Killyeagh on December 29 in a cup rehearsal.
Ballyclare Comrades, while drawn away to Ballymoney United, see their fixture switched to Dixon Park as Comrades came in at a later stage.
Dundela and Portstewart is an all-First Division clash while Ards, also from the First Division, take on Second Division Brantwood.
Tobermore are involved in a north-west derby at Coleraine in one of the few ties that will inspire a possible upset.
Hot shot Jackie is shooting for cup success
Jackie Hosick will be the Suffolk danger man when his side face Blythefield in the final of the South Antrim League's Ironside Cup at Derriaghy CC's ground on Boxing Day (11am).
Last Saturday, Suffolk slaughtered Banbridge AFC II 11-0 in a re-arranged semi-final, with Hosick hitting six goals after returning from injury.
Blythefield, on the other hand, will be hoping for third time lucky after losing twice to 112th Old Boys in finals last season.
They have their own deadly striking partnership in Stephen Richardson and Eddie Williamson, both of whom were signed at the start of the season.
Glenavon Youth will be hoping to make it a double celebration over Belfast's "Big Two" in the final of the Lisburn Junior Invitational Shield on New Year's Day.
They beat Glentoran Youth 4-3 in the semi-final and now face Linfield Youth on at Rushmore (1pm).
The remaining finals will be played on Saturday from 9.30am at Ballymacoss Playing Fields.
The line-up for these is: 9.30am: Under-10: Ballymena Youth v Lisburn Youth; Under-11: Ards Youth v Sunnyside Boys; Under-12: Linfield Youth v Lisburn Youth. 11.30am: Under-13: Lisburn Youth v Newhill Youth; Under-14: Linfield Youth v Lisburn Youth; Under-15: Ballymena Youth v Linfield Youth.
Meanwhile, tomorrow night at the Joey Dunlop Centre, the two leading teams in the Ballymena Provincial League, battle it out for the Crawford Cup.
Champions Raceview take on current league leaders Mosside (7.30pm) in what promises to be a very competitive final.