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Kirk Cup Final - Preview

Kilkeel will be hoping their never-say-die attitude will inspire them to what would be a first-ever Kirk triumph as they prepare to take on Mossley in the Boxing Day final at Stormont (3pm). 

The Co Down side staged a memorable comeback in their semi-final with Instonians, who went into the game as many people's favourites to repeat their 2015 triumph when, ironically, the Belfast outfit beat Mossley.

Kilkeel were, or so it seemed, staring defeat in the face when they trailed 2-0 with only eight minutes left but they rallied to score twice and force a penalty shoot-out which they won to reach the showpiece for the first time in the club's history.

However, Kilkeel's task has been all the more difficult by the fact Mossley have been able to call upon 231-times capped Ireland star John Jackson for the game. The Rio Olympian, who grew up at the Newtownabbey club, plays his hockey for Bath Buccaneers in England, who are on a winter-break and the 31-year-old has been given clearance to play.

Undaunted, Kilkeel are looking forward to the final and hoping to end Mossley's hopes of a first Kirk triumph since way back in 1983, three years before Jackson was even born.

"It’s a fantastic achievement for the club and has given the team a real lift going into a busy period of the season." said Kilkeel captain Gareth Russell.

"For the players, it is a real bonus to have reached a Kirk cup final and hopefully we can produce a performance fitting for the occasion. As regards our comeback against Inst, it says that we have a great team spirit and a never-say-die attitude, even when we are not maybe playing to our full potential."

"Our main strength in our togetherness as a team. We have a pacey attack which causes all teams trouble no matter what level they play at. We also have a solid defence and will hope to use these strengths to control the game. although it's going to be a tough one."

"Mossley have always provided us with a tough game, no matter what the competition or location. We played out a very entertaining draw in the group stages of the Kirk Cup. If the final is anything like that game it will be a very enjoyable watch for the supporters and the neutrals alike."

"We will prepare accordingly as we have plenty of previous experience of their strengths and weaknesses and our main focus will be on ensuring we play our own game. We have performed reasonably well in what has been a disjointed start to the season in terms of fixtures as to date we have only played five league games to date." 

Mossley coach Ricky Lee says his players will be anxious to reverse the result of the 2015 final but acknowledges the fact Kilkeel will pose a stern test.

"For some of the guys who played in the final two years ago there’s a strong desire to put in a performance and make amends for a poor showing on that particular day." said Lee.

"I suppose for the club on the whole however, having only won the competition once in 1983, adding some prestigious silverware to the trophy cabinet would give a great deal of pride to everyone involved."

Both teams have had their difficulties in the build up due to the adverse weather which has made preparation all the harder but Lee is delighted with Mossley's form so far when the elements haven't intervened.

"We have only lost once in all competitions while, at the same point last season, the team had lost six games and the outlook for the season was very different, so from that perspective, so far so good." he added.

"However, the one game lost came at a time when we had players out with injury and with a demanding league and cup schedule the challenge will be to keep everyone fit and prevent a recurrence of that."

"We are also going into the week of the final on the back of three weekends of cancelled games due to weather conditions, so our good start to the season has been halted somewhat, which is not ideal - on the upside however it has afforded injured players some time to get back to full fitness."

Lee is hoping a heightened level of physical fitness could hold the key to Mossley's chances of winning the final although maintaining full focus for 70 minutes will also be crucial against Kilkeel.

"This year we have seen a big improvement in our fitness and we have been able to finish games strongly as a result." he added.

"Having said that, most finals tend to be close affairs with one or two defining moments so keeping our focus throughout the 70 minutes may well prove to be key. We haven't played Kilkeel in the league this season but last term we drew 1-1 and lost 5-4 in the two games, so all the recent fixtures have been close."

"They have some fantastic home-grown players, a vocal support and a great self-belief in what they do so getting by them on Boxing Day will be no easy task and we'll need to be at our best to pip them to the trophy." 

Saturday 23rd December:

Ulster Premier League

Antrim v Newry 2.30pm @ Antrim Forum
Bangor v Raphoe 4.00pm @ Bangor Aurora
Belfast HQ v Cliftonville 2.30pm @ Deramore
Instonians v South Antrim 2.30pm @ Shaw’s Bridge
Mossley v North Down 2.30pm @ The Glade
NICS v Queen’s 2.30pm @ Stormont

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