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McCullough Cup Final - Preview

Friends' coach Craig Cunningham insists his team aren't planning to be merely making up the numbers when they face hot favourites Sullivan Upper in Wednesday's McCullough Cup final at Lisnagarvey (2pm). 

The Lisburn school lost heavily to their Holywood opponents earlier in the season but their coach feels that won't have any bearing on the rematch. 

Sullivan defeated the holders Banbridge Academy 2-1 in the semi-final while Friends were 3-1 winners over Methodist College. Last season, Sullivan lifted the Burney Cup with a hard-fought victory over Wallace High and, of the two squads, they have more players who have earned representative honours. 

Friends last won the famous trophy back in 1980 although they have tasted success in the competition on more occasions than Sullivan with four successes. Sullivan however have been more prominent in local schoolboys' hockey in recent years and most pundits will expect them to win the final. 

However, Friends have several potential match-winners and an ace in their pack in the shape of Andrew Edgar, who hit a hat-trick of penalty corners in the win over Methody. 

"We have a decent corner routine and, obviously, set-pieces are an important part of the game." said Cunningham. 

"I don't think the game between the sides earlier in the season will have any bearing on the final at all. We have improved since then and we managed to get to the semi-final of the all-Ireland schools tournament which will have given the boys confidence." 

"We are certainly not going to the final to make up the numbers although I accept that Sullivan will start favourites and understandably so with the talent they have. A lot of the boys have come through the various under-age teams that have won the various trophies so it's a good group of players.But we're looking forward to the game and there is certainly no pressure on us going into it." 

Sullivan coach Andy Williamson, the Lisnagarvey player, agrees with his opposite number and expects a close contest between the sides. 

"I personally think it will be a very tight-fought affair. Both teams look to play a fast flowing style of hockey, moving the ball around and creating lost of scoring opportunities." he said. 

"Regarding the result earlier on in the year, I don’t think that will have much bearing on the final. Both teams have come a long way from then and that match was the first real time both teams got their ‘full’ squads together between the UK School Games and inter-pros." 

"The strengths of both teams are very similar, we both have good confident ball players in defence and midfield. We both have a number of under age Ulster and Irish internationals, both teams have a good mix of experience and youth in their squads, and both teams look to play good-to-watch, fast paced, attacking hockey." 

"And I think based on these strengths, it will make for an exciting cup final and will be a great representation of the level of schoolboy hockey in Ulster at the minute." 

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