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An Ulster hat-trick would be huge for Armagh: Faloon

 

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Familiar face: Former Ballynahinch player Willie Faloon will look to get the better of his old team when he takes charge of Armagh tonight

Familiar face: Former Ballynahinch player Willie Faloon will look to get the better of his old team when he takes charge of Armagh tonight

Presseye

Familiar face: Former Ballynahinch player Willie Faloon will look to get the better of his old team when he takes charge of Armagh tonight

City of Armagh have their gaze firmly fixed on securing a third straight Ulster Senior Cup in tonight's final, which pits them against Ballynahinch.

The Cup holders only lifted the trophy for the first time in the 2017-18 season - and on their initial appearance in the final as well - which, neatly, followed on from Hinch's own treble success over winning this silverware.

Significantly, then, both clubs have put their stamp on the competition in recent years.

For Armagh coach Willie Faloon, and assistant coach Chris Parker, retaining the trophy and notching up a hat-trick of successes would be a huge achievement and an ideal end to a week which has already seen the pair guide Royal School Armagh to the Schools' Cup final after Tuesday's dramatic comeback to defeat RBAI.

For Faloon, there is also quite a connection with Hinch as the former Ulster and Connacht flanker played for the Co Down club and was part of their Grand Slam side of 2009 which also saw them lay claim to the Senior Cup.

Parker was also associated with Hinch having coached there for five years, during which time they won their treble of Senior Cup titles, before coming to the Palace Grounds in 2017.

But the links do not end there as current Hinch coach Brian McLaughlin was also involved at Ballymacarn Park in that all-conquering season 11 years ago as well as having later gone on to join Armagh, where he also worked with Faloon on the coaching ticket prior to re-joining the Co Down club in 2017.

"The boys are well aware it will be three in a row," said Faloon of tonight's showdown.

"I know Hinch have done it (three straight wins) and a few other big clubs before that but for an Armagh team that was playing junior rugby a few years ago this would be massive for us.

"To do it against Hinch would also be massive but we know it is a tough task."

The backdrop to this game, namely how the season generally has been panning out for both, may provide some form of indicator though, of course, this is a one-off occasion where form is by no means a useful yardstick for how tonight may unfold.

While Armagh are mid-table in the AIL's Division 1B, and with aspirations to make the top-four play-offs, Hinch have been long-term tenants of bottom place in 1A though they can still avoid the drop.

This will be Hinch's eighth appearance in the final and they have won the Cup four times previously.

Even though both clubs have rather more important matters in their sights than what has become a rather diminished domestic competition, there is no doubting their desire for silverware.

"Hinch are a league above us (in the AIL) but they are playing good rugby," Faloon said.

"I know they haven't been getting the results they would have wanted but they are a good side."

Having said that, the Armagh coach is confident that his squad can bring the trophy back to the Palace Grounds once again.

"A lot of them have played here (at the Kingspan) both with the school and the club over the last few years so they will not be going in with any fear. They know the situation and it is up to them how much they want it," Faloon stated of his team, who defeated Banbridge, City of Derry and Rainey to reach this point.

Selection-wise, Tim McNiece is Armagh's main injury concern.

As for Hinch, they will have Ulster Academy players Zack McCall and Marcus Rea available. Jack Regan is also good to go, though both Conor Rankin and Bradley Luney are doubts.

Scrum-half Rhys O'Donnell is not thought to be fit for the final which could mean that Aaron Cairns will be at nine and Hinch will be hoping that his input, along with Ross Adair's, will give them an edge behind the scrum.

Hinch director of rugby Harry McAleese, a Cup winner himself and former team-mate of Faloon's, said regarding the importance of winning tonight's final for the club: "It would be a big boost for our confidence and for our (AIL) run-in."

Hinch defeated Dungannon in the semi-finals and, before that, put Omagh and Queen's University out.

The teams have never met in the final before and though this is likely to be a close affair, Armagh may just have the edge.

City of Armagh vs Ballynahinch

Bank of Ireland Senior Cup final:

Kingspan Stadium, tonight, 7.30 pm

Belfast Telegraph