Semi-final showdowns await Junior Shield hopefuls
The dream of an unforgettable treble is very much on for Tullycarnet, as they bid to make their second final in three weeks.
Next Wednesday night, they travel to the Bangor Fuels Arena (7.30pm) to take on the winners of Castlewellan Town v Willowbank (quarter-final, this Saturday, Bann Road Playing Fields, Castlewellan) in the semi-final of the Junior Shield. Although the Dundonald-based outfit are in the midst of a fairly busy fixture backlog, they will quietly fancy their chances of continuing their ongoing positive momentum against the winners of the outstanding quarter-final.
Already through to the final of the Amateur League’s Cochrane Corry Cup, after a dramatic penalty shootout win over Ardoyne WMC, Tullycarnet joint managers Jimmy Birch, Stan Kinnier and Paul Campbell have so far been doing a good job with keeping their players minds focussed on all fronts.
The priority has always been to secure a place in Intermediate football, with promotion from Division 2A to 1C, as reflected by their recent move from the Hanwood Centre to Moat Park, and with an undefeated record in all 16 of their divisional games so far this season, three points off Suffolk with four games in hand, their title aspirations are well on track.
Castlewellan Town, who can point to a brimming trophy cabinet at league level, particularly in the last couple of decades, have a proud history - including a 2003 treble (the first ever in the Newcastle League) - but would love nothing more than to have a piece of silverware contested on a Northern Ireland-wide basis with which to truly prove themselves.
The Newcastle & District League club, which featured none other than former Northern Ireland international Terry Cochrane in the early 1970s, are well-respected and renowned within their local leagues, but remarkably, have never been any further than the semi-finals of the Junior Shield.
Last season, they lost 4-3 to St Luke’s in the semi-finals, and several seasons before that, they bowed out to Malachians II at the same stage.
They may well be out of the race to retain their Premier Division crown this season, but they would no doubt swap that for reaching their first ever Junior Shield final, and then… who knows?
Standing in their way of a semi-final showdown with Tullycarnet are Willowbank, another club whose league position suggests all of their eggs will be in the Junior Shield ‘basket.’
It hasn’t been a vintage season in the Belfast & District League Premier Division for the side based just off the Falls Road, with their ‘goals against’ tally almost identical to their ‘goals for.’
However, victories against Amateur League Division 2A clubs Suffolk and Queen’s Graduates, not to mention a 5-1 victory over one of the Down Area League’s best sides, Greenwell Star, in previous rounds show that this is a team with every chance of making the last four at the very least.
Like Tullycarnet, Kelvin OB also have the opportunity to capture a Division 2A, Cochrane Corry Cup and Junior Shield, although their quest will be admittedly tougher. Michael Surgeon’s side are 11 points behind Tullycarnet and only have two games in hand over them with time fast running out.
Unlike Tullycarnet, they are not yet through to the Cochrane Corry final - as their semi-final encounter with Queens University II was moved to next Monday (7.30pm at Seaview), due to Crusaders requiring the surface on the previously set date.
However, they do have one advantage over the other three remaining teams in the competition… they are the only one who has ever actually lifted the Junior Shield. And no doubt, those at the club who witnessed that landmark victory in 2011 will use their every memory to help bid for a repeat, four years later.Treble
Ballyvea are the team who will look to stop Kelvin in their tracks in this Wednesday’s semi-final (Solitude, 7.30pm).
Apart from their own massive motivations, there could surely be no greater driving force in the Newcastle outfit’s bid to reach the final than a potential face-off with the very Castlewellan Town side who denied them the Premier Division title on goal difference last season.
It is just one of so many intriguing stories thrown up by this year’s competition, and with such a strong line-up, there is very little doubt this year’s winners will be deserving of the crown.