Belfast Telegraph

Top two are set for Christmas cracker

By Graham Hamilton

Annadale coaches Andy Smyth and Mark Tumilty will be telling their teams to go out and enjoy Ulster hockey's biggest occasion - the Kirk Cup final - regardless of the result.

And that means the expected four-figure crowd at Hillsborough will go from a feast of turkey on Christmas Day to a feast of good hockey on Boxing Day as two of the province's biggest giants go head-to-head.

Too often cup finals end up with teams cancelling each other out, as fear of losing takes over, but both coaches reckon that won't be the case on Wednesday.

" Many say that the Kirk Cup isn't as important as the Irish Senior Cup or the All-Ireland club championships, because it doesn't offer entry into Europe," reasons Annadale boss Smyth.

"But at the end of the day the Kirk Cup final is the biggest date on the Ulster hockey calendar, and attracts the biggest crowd of the season.

"So I'll be telling the players to go out and enjoy themselves on this special occasion, and hopefully the result will come our way.

"It's a chance for them to show what they can do in front of friends, family and fans in general, and at the same time know that the pressure isn't on to win, as it would be in other major competitions."

Smyth, though, would still like to get his hands on the trophy, as he believes success breeds success, and that the more big games his players feature in, the more they will benefit from the big-game mentality.

He has a full strength squad to choose from, apart from new signing Andy McGimpsey who is cup-tied, and is relatively pleased with the way his players have been progressing all season, particularly after beating holders Cookstown in the semi-final and then Irish Senior Cup holders Glenanne in Dublin.

But he knows that Garvey are a team that can never be written off.

The Hillsborough team underwent big changes this season, with the loss of a handful of players and also coach Peter McCabe.

But they had groomed Mark Tumilty to take over, and after a slow start, the former Irish international has moulded a new-look young squad who are growing in confidence with each game.

The loss of striker Timmy Cockram to the international team is a blow but Chris Gregg is back from Loughborough university for Christmas and is eligible for this competition and is likely to feature up front.

"The return of Johnny Gray from injury has been a big boost in recent weeks, and now we have a settled squad to work with," says Mark.

"For a change we've no injury worries, and I want the players to continue in the same vein as recent weeks, and we'll not go far wrong."

Meanwhile the Irish international team arrived home from Chile today after finishing with silver medals in the Samsung Four Nations tournament in Santiago.

Having drawn 1-1 with South Africa and Argentina, ranked six and 12 places above Ireland on the world ranking ladder, Dave Passmore's men also crushed hosts Chile 6-0 to reach the final where Argentina finally beat them 2-1 late on Friday evening.

Passmore, disappointed that his team were unable to hold on to their lead in the final, nevertheless was pleased with progress ahead of February's Olympic Games Qualifier in New Zealand when they will again meet up with Argentina.

The players will take a break over Christmas before resuming preparations early in the new year.

ANNADALE: Johnny Moore, David Robb, Mark Kendall, David Smyth, Neil Hamilton, Steven Redpath, Johnny Quigley, Peter Bland, Ian McKeown, Ian Hamilton, Chris Lemon, Peter Caruth, Peter Purcell, Fraser Mills, Gareth Kidd, Chris Jackson, Aaron Mills, Michael Purcell.

LISNAGARVEY: David Williamson, Brian Waring, Jonny Bell, Ian Davidson, Steven Arbuthnot, Mark Robinson, Jason Lynch, Johnny Gray, Cameron Black, Mark Raphael, Mark Daniel, Johnny Bloomfield, Kyle Lunn, Simon Ballantine, Daniel Buser, Peter MacDonnell, Chris Gregg.

Umpires: Craig Porter and Robert Johnston.

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