Annadale and Town aiming to box clever in cup decider
Annadale have been handed a double boost ahead of Boxing Day's Kirk Cup final at Stormont (3pm) - opponents Cookstown will be without two star players.
Goalkeeper Tobias Depperman is back in Germany to be with his parents over Christmas while midfielder Jonny Ames is also unavailable over the festive season due to a pre-arranged trip.
It's just the type of news that Dale player/coach Peter Caruth is glad to hear, especially as he no longer has the services of Irish international midfielder Michael Robson, who joined Irish Hockey League club Lisnagarvey earlier this month.
But he believes he has a strong squad, nicely balanced between youth and experience, and that they will give a good account of themselves when it matters.
"I love trophies, and we have the Kirk Cup in our sights. To win it would give our younger players a real lift," said Caruth.
"We have four Irish U18s and two Irish U21s in our squad but this youth is levelled out with the experience from players like Jonny Moore, David Robb, Peter Bland, James Cox and myself.
"Promotion back into the Irish Hockey League is our main aim but we're going to enjoy this cup final experience and I believe it will be a great game between two good teams.
"We know Cookstown's key players, and they also have some good young ones coming through. We meet again in the league in January, so the final will give us an insight into how we are both doing since our early season 3-3 draw."
The loss of Depperman and Ames is no doubt a blow to the Tyrone club but coaches Steven Cuddy and Michael Haycock still believe they have sufficient back-up as they bid to land the trophy for the fifth time since the turn of the Millennium.
Both Josh Anderson and Josh McCabe come into the reckoning to don the keeper's pads while there remains a strong midfield presence in the absence of Ames.
Striker Stuart Smyth has bagged five goals in his last two games and having played in a handful of earlier Kirk finals, he's looking forward to the occasion.
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder and our year away from the Kirk Cup, due to our time in the Irish Hockey League, really makes this one of the titles we are desperate to win," he said.
"Playing in seven of the last 10 Kirk Cup finals means that it has almost become a Boxing Day tradition for the Cookstown players and supporters, so not being involved last season was very strange.
"We've had some real humdingers against Annadale in the past and they are always tightly contested and tense.
"We played them at Carryduff early in the season and drew 3-3. They had their top men on the field that day while we were missing a few and I think it would be fair to say we were lucky to get away with a draw.
"This will be a different affair but we'll still have to take care of Peter Caruth. He's not their only threat but he is a significant one and he cut us apart a few times in that game in the league.
"When you've guys like Keith Black, Greg Allen, Mark Crooks and Paul Thompson in your team you'll always create loads of opportunities, so it's up to our forwards to convert them."
Annadale: Jonny Moore; Andrew McKibbin; Ben Wallace; Peter Bland; Adam McAllister; David Morris; Connor Roberts; David Robb; Fergus Gibson; Patrick Jack; Matthew Crookshanks; Callum Robson; Peter Caruth; Craig Getty; James Cox, Tom Robson, Chris Heath, Owen McElhinney, Rory Capper, Matt McRoberts.
Cookstown: Matthew Rollins, Ryan Millar, Godfrey Irwin, Paul Thompson, Ewan Butler, Scott McCabe, Mark Crooks, Andy McWhirter, Greg Allen, Stuart Smyth, Cole Chambers, Keith Black, Dan Crooks, Mark Rooney, Michael Kerr, Timmy Sloan, Jack Haycock, Josh Anderson, Josh McCabe