Injured Alan hopes to see Royal coronation
Alan Patterson, who received serious spinal injuries five months ago in a trampolining accident, hopes to leave his hospital bed this afternoon to come along and support his former school, Royal & Prior, as they bid to land the McCullough Cup for the first time in their history at Lisnagarvey (2pm).
Patterson was a member of the school team that last played in a McCullough decider back in 1990, which they lost to Cookstown High, and the current players believe his presence will give them added incentive to beat hot favourites Banbridge Academy.
Many of the Royal & Prior lads looked up to Patterson who went on to establish himself firstly in the Raphoe team and then in the Instonians team that won the Ulster Premier League and Kirk Cup last season before the July accident left him paralysed.
Since then he has been confined to hospital in the Royal Victoria Hospital's intensive care unit before moving to the Musgrave Park for rehabilitation.
A Trust Fund has been set up and indeed the proceeds from the McCullough Cup semi-final in Raphoe last Friday will be forwarded in due course, but in the meantime Patterson is going through the slow recovery procedure with the odd trip away from the hospital.
"Alan is keen to go to the final, but it depends on whether we can set up his car transfers and if he can adjust his therapy slots," explains his fiancee Hilary Bradshaw.
The Royals, though, are going in as underdogs despite their will to do well.
They are captained by Irish Under 21 star Alex Tinney who, along with Luke Witherow, is a regular goalscorer for Raphoe in the Ulster Premier League while Irish Under 18 squad member Ben Wallace lines out for Annadale at senior level.
They swept through their pool with wins over Kilkeel High (10-1), Regent (7-0), RBAI (3-1) and Bangor Grammar (2-1), as well as a 4-4 draw with Friends, but the telling result was the 4-1 win over Banbridge early in the programme.
However, the Academy rallied since that setback and ran off wins against Kilkeel High (8-0), Regent (7-0), Bangor (6-0), RBAI (3-0) and Friends (2-1) to finish runners-up before clinching the semi-final win over the other pool winners Sullivan Upper.
They have already shown what they can do by reaching the all-Ireland final in October and are current Burney Cup holders.
Coach Mark Cordner has a reputation for being a winner, and with captain Jake Rowe and Irish U21 stars Luke Roleston and Kyle Marshall in their ranks, there is every chance that they can come up trumps again.
Marshall and Rowe are already regulars in the town's Irish Hockey League squad with Marshall earning rave notices.
Indeed the duo will feature in Banbridge's Irish Hockey League clash against UCD at Havelock Park on Sunday as they bid to maintain their unbeaten start.
The other big IHL game sees Lisnagarvey take on Instonians on Saturday while the top games in the Premier League see Annadale home to Harlequins, Cookstown at Campbellians and the Newry-Kilkeel Mourne derby.
Finally, the North Down and Bangor clubs are still in mourning over the tragic death of Austin Hunter in a road accident in Bahrain.
He was best known in press and PR circles but was associated with the Comber club and also Bangor with son Simon.
"He was our 1st XI trainer when the club regained senior status after winning the league and cup double in 1990," recalls North Down's Jim Patterson.
"He also captained the 6th XI to cup success two years later and then headed up our first Youth Development committee before following his son Simon to Bangor.
"Austin was a top man and we're stunned after also losing two former 1st XI coaches - Brian Davis and Terry Ritchie - during the year."
Banbridge Academy: Luke Roleston, Edward Rowe, Ryan Simms, James Anderson, Callum Gibson, Mark Barlow, Joel Reid, Kyle Marshall, Phillip Campbell, Nathan Liggett, Scott Dale, Jake Rowe, Lewis Bingham, Chris Curry, Harry Lockhart, Charlie Norris
Raphoe and Prior: Sbusiso Ogwudile, Jordan Devenney, Tom Eaton, James Roulston, Ben Wallace, Luke Witherow, Mark Buchanan, Alexander Tinney, Jamie McKinney, Jack Pearson, Jake Watt, Zack West, Jonny Porter, James Wilson, Peter Scott, Luke Porter
Umpires: G Herron, E McFerran