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Wallace and Friends aim to be class act

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Friends School

Friends School

Brian Little

Wallace High School

Wallace High School

Brian Little

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Friends School

It's the game that is capturing the imagination of so many in Lisburn. This afternoon's McCullough Cup final (2.30pm) at Lisnagarvey which will see city rivals Wallace High and Friends meet head-on.

There's sure to be a big four-figure crowd at the Hillsborough ground, with both schools giving pupils permission to attend the game which has all the hallmarks of a thriller, and booking a fleet of coaches to ferry them back and forward.

It's the first time the derby rivals have ever met at the final stage of the competition, which has been in operation since 1960 following the tragic death of schoolboy Ian McCullough who was struck by a ball in a school game.

In fact, the two seem to avoid each other at this stage of any of the senior schools competitions, having never met in the All-Ireland decider and just once in the 95-year history of the Burney Cup, away back in 1959.

Mind you, they've already met earlier this season in the McCullough Cup group stages and it was Wallace who won 3-1. But coaches Errol Lutton and Gareth Kidd insist that result will mean nothing this afternoon and that it doesn't necessarily mean Wallace are going in as favourites.

Hockey has always been strong at the two schools, with many from the past going on to represent either Lisnagarvey or South Antrim at senior level.

For example, Olympic gold medallist Jimmy Kirkwood and fellow Irish internationals Dan Clarke, Julian Stevenson, Jonathan Bell and Brown Shaw were among a host who came through the Friends ranks.

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And a glance at today's Wallace team sheet shows some family connections, with Mark McNellis, the son of former Garvey defender Norman, and Scott McCabe, the son of former Garvey striker and coach Peter.

David Arneill is the younger brother of current Garvey defender Richard, who actually was in the Wallace team that reached the 2009 McCullough Cup final.

But today is all about the current players, and some mighty fine ones will be on display.

Wallace had 10 in the recent under-16 and under-18 inter-provincial championships, with Sean Murray, Daniel Nelson and Andrew O'Hare particularly impressive, and they've also potential matchwinners in skipper Ross Kelly and Mark Acheson and perhaps Scott McCabe, if he can shake off the hamstring problem that has restricted his appearances lately.

Coach Lutton is well aware of the squad's capabilities, and he has been quick to bring Murray and Nelson into Garvey's senior squad. Indeed last Saturday both set up goals for Timmy Cockram... who just happens to be another former Wallace old boy who, of course, has gone on to become a prolific Irish international striker.

"The proximity of the two schools makes it an interesting final," admits Wallace co-coach Gareth Kidd.

"There is good friendship between the schools and with some of the players, which all adds to the occasion.

"Our earlier win over Friends in the group stages is not really a guide to what can happen today, but we have a good mix of youth and experience and are confident we can acquit ourselves well."

In the Friends camp, goalkeeper James Milliken, captain Matthew Sullivan and Jack Henderson are the stand-out names, having been part of the Ulster team which won the UK Schools Games earlier this season.

But Wallace are also well aware that Friends have a useful striker in Aaron Martin who struck twice in their 4-1 semi-final win over Campbell College, while Patrick Cochrane and Adam Marshall – who both line out for South Antrim – Ryan West, Thomas Matthewson and Ryan Donaldson are also dangerous customers.

"We feel we are the underdogs in that Wallace beat us in the group stages and they are scoring lots of goals," admits Friends coach Craig Cunningham.

"But we won't be lying down. Our lads are getting stronger as the weeks go on, and few could've predicted us beating the other group winners Campbell College by 4-1 in the semi-finals."

Yes, the outcome is going to be pretty hard to call.

Wallace vastly outscored Friends in the road to the final, netting 44 opposed to 21, and had a tighter defence, conceding just seven opposed to 12, which suggests they will go in as favourites.

But at the end of the day, it will be whoever can deliver on the big occasion and whoever won't freeze in front of the big crowd.

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Belfast Telegraph Senior Schools Cup holders Lurgan College have been drawn away to Wallace High in this season's quarter-finals.

The Lurgan girls swept aside Royal School Armagh by 5-0 in the third round while Wallace beat Belfast High 3-1.

Rainey Endowed were also 5-0 winners over Portadown College and now face the winners of the Coleraine and Sullivan game which is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

Belfast Telegraph Senior Schools' Cup quarter-finals (on or before January 25): Carrickfergus Grammar v Ballyclare High, Coleraine High or Sullivan Upper v Rainey Endowed, Strathearn v Ballymena Academy, Wallace High v Lurgan College

3rd round results: Rainey Endowed 5 Portadown College 0; Ballyclare High 3 Methodist College Belfast 1; Royal School Armagh 0 Lurgan College 5; Carrickfergus Grammar 2 Antrim Grammar 1; Belfast Royal Academy 1 Ballymena Academy 3; Belfast High 1 Wallace High 3; Strathearn 2 Down High 1

Senior Schools' Shield quarter-finals (on or before January 25): Coleraine High or Sullivan Upper v Antrim Grammar; Royal School Armagh v Belfast High, Down High v Belfast Royal Academy, Methodist College Belfast v Portadown


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