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Armagh out to win Senior Cup for retired skipper Ali Birch


By Michael Sadlier

City of Armagh have another significant target in their sights at tonight's First Trust Senior Cup final with Ballymena at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7:30pm) as the Palace Grounds club are bidding to lift the trophy for the first time.

And they have plenty of motivation too in what is also their first ever appearance in the showpiece final as it is just over a week since their then-skipper and key player Ali Birch retired from playing.

The former Ulster flanker stood down due to a series of concussions and, though he has immediately been brought onto the Division 2A side's coaching ticket, there is a discernible notion that a Cup win would be a highly appropriate way to honour his input as a player.

Assistant coach Chris Parker said: "Ali broke the news (of his retirement) to the boys in the changing room after the Cashel game and it was a bit emotional.

"It is great to have him still around the squad and his leadership will be really important for the rest of the season. It would be nice to get it for Ali."

The upwardly mobile club also won the SONI Ulster Premiership title last season for the first time - a feat achieved at Ballymena - and secured promotion to the AIL's Division 2A, so tasting success is not exactly an unknown factor at the club.

Armagh have beaten Banbridge and Malone to make it this far. They do, though, face a severe challenge against the Braidmen, who are high achievers in the competition and are aiming for their 15th triumph and first success since season 2012-13 after losing the shoot-out two years ago to Ballynahinch, who they beat in last month's semi-final.

Ballymena coach Andy Graham, who previously won the trophy as a player at the club, said: "We want to get a trophy and, as our All-Ireland League form hasn't been great, winning the Cup is something that would give us a lift."

The Division 1B side's expected strength up front probably holds the key to the contest, though Graham feels that the game will be a tight affair.

"I don't think there is any clear favourite," added coach Graham.

Armagh: T Niece, R Purvis, C Colvin, J Faloon, R Faloon, C Fox, H Doyle; P Matthews, A Smyth, P Fletcher, J McKinley, R Whitten, J Morton, S Hooks, W Faloon. Subs: M Hoey, D Morton, J Hanna, T Campbell, J Pollock.

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