Friends' seek revenge in bid to end 40-year Burney Cup drought
Friends' are hoping to bridge a 40-year gap by turning the tables on holders Sullivan Upper and landing Ulster schoolboy hockey's premier knockout trophy, the Burney Cup, at Stormont Playball tomorrow evening.
The Lisburn school are the most successful in the competition, which is now sponsored by John Minnis Estate Agents, with 15 wins to their name.
But they have to go back to 1978 for their last success, and indeed they have had just three final appearances since, losing in 1986, 1995 and more recently in 2012.
Coaches Craig Cunningham and Drew Campbell are determined to put that right - and there's also the matter of getting some revenge on their Holywood rivals, who beat them in December's McCullough Cup final.
That day, Friends' thought they had won the trophy as they were leading 2-1 going into the final minute through goals from Andy Edgar and Jack McGall.
But Sullivan's never-say-die attitude held them in good stead and Harry Morris forced home a last-gasp equaliser before they took the silverware by virtue of a 4-3 shoot-out win.
It was hard to take for Friends' but now they have the opportunity to turn the tables on a team that has impressed over the past few years.
Skippered by Fergus Gibson, and with other experienced players in Paddy Crookshanks, the Morris twins Harry and Matthew, Tom Robson, Matthew Willis, Callum Carson and Sonny Erskine among others, Sullivan have a solid base which makes them hard to beat.
They struggled a little in the first half of last week's semi-final win over Wallace High but coach Conor Roberts tweaked matters at the interval and suddenly they were three up and seemingly coasting.
But when Wallace took the game to them, chinks began to appear and they were left hanging on after Troy Chambers struck twice late on.
That's something Friends' will have noticed and if they can manufacture a few penalty corners, they have a potential match-winner in Andy Edgar who not only converted a set-piece in the McCullough decider but also put two away in the Burney semi-final 3-1 win over a gallant Methodist College Belfast.
Friends' also have accomplished players in Matthew Milliken, Rory Brown and Jack McGall among others, and showed what they are capable of when they reached the All-Ireland Schoolboy Championship semi-finals around Halloween.
Yes, it looks like it could be a reasonably balanced decider and could all depend on who wants to win the most - Friends' determination to bridge that 40-year gap or Sullivan's resolve to hold onto the trophy they won last year.
Meanwhile, Lisnagarvey are to squeeze in their delayed Irish Senior Cup quarter-final against YMCA this Sunday - less than a week after their international stars returned from the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.
Should Garvey account for YMCA, then it is Pembroke Wanderers who will make the trip to Hillsborough on April 7 with a place in the final at stake.
There's no Irish Hockey League or Ulster Premier League scheduled for this holiday weekend, although the Junior League Cup finals will be staged at Playball, Stormont on Saturday.
Thomas McCord, Paddy Crookshanks, Matthew Willis, Tom Robson, Michael Trimble, Callum Carson, Fergus Gibson, Matthew Morris, Sonny Erskine, Daniel Girvin, Fergus Kerr, Patrick Haley, Isaac Hart, Tom McClintock, Djay Erskine, Jamie McAuley.
How they got here
Preliminary round: Bye
Round One: Sullivan Upper 3 Bangor Grammar 1
Quarter-final: Sullivan Upper 3 Campbell College 0
Semi-final: Sullivan Upper 3 Wallace High 2 (at Lisnagarvey)
Ryan Kirkpatrick, Matthew Hamill, Matthew Thompson, Ross Little, Harry Scott, Conor Monteith, Matthew Milliken, Rory Brown, Sam Anderson, Hugo Henderson, Ollie Kidd, Matthew Aughey, Jack McGall, Conor Quinn, Conor Irwin, Andy Edgar, Jack Simpson
How they got here
Preliminary round: Bye
Round One: Antrim Grammar 0 Friends' School 6
Quarter-final: Friends' School 6 Cookstown High 0
Semi-final: Friends' School 3 Methodist College Belfast 1 (at Lisnagarvey)
Burney Cup Final
Stormont Playball, Tomorrow, 7.30pm