SATURDAY’S opening round of the Border Regiment Cup has thrown up some interesting local ding-dongs; none more so than the meeting of Division 1A stablemates Barn United and UUJ at Haslett Park.
These two sides had a strange habit of producing 2-2 draws; a sequence which was broken last season where UUJ won back-to-back League games; 3-1 at the Barn and 2-1 at the Factory Grounds.
However, UUJ manager Fra Miskelly cautioned: “Those games could have gone either way and I’d expect Saturday to be much of the same, boiling down to whoever makes the least mistakes or takes their chances when they appear.
“I know Barn have lost key players in Chris Shimmon and Noel Anderson, but they’ve still got Andy Kane and Nicky Sharples up front; they’re more than a handful for any defence – and we’re missing one of our central defenders, Colm Maxwell, who is just back from Australia. Down at their place, you’d have to make Barn favourites, even though we’ve done not too badly down there lately.”
Another doubt for UUJ is Michael Brannigan, while new recruit Mark Craig isn’t yet available.
Barn, however, look likely to be without Andy Kane, through a ligament injury, lasting only 10 minutes of a friendly against Carniny Amateurs.
Also out through injury are Wayne Patterson (ligaments) and a possible replacement for Kane, Paul Garvey (metatarsal), while Gary McKee is struggling to shake off an achilles injury.
Barn’s squad is certainly bigger than last year, largely thanks to having ‘gobbled up’ most of last year’s Kilroot Rec team – but they’ve lost Shimmon to Bangor, Anderson, now the new player-coach of Sirocco Works, the two full-backs Marc Kelly to Greenisland and Chris Monteith to Ballyclare Comrades.
There are added central defensive options with the return of Neil McKnight from Islandmagee and Paul Waite from Newington Rangers; last year’s skipper Paul Mathers now the midfield anchor man, a role he played at Islandmagee and under Jim Pherson at Kilroot. With last year’s number one Chris Campbell now playing up front for the Seconds, one of the Kilroot contingent Dean Haggan looks set to be the last line of defence, despite the signing last week of Conor Brown, goalkeeper of Premier Division runners-up Albert Foundry last term.
While UUJ were due to get their season under way at home to Wellington during the week, Saturday’s tie will be Barn’s first competitive outing of the summer. They were to be in action on Saturday but were left clicking ther heels due to the non-arrival of Ballywalter Rec at the weekend. and Midweeek opponents Orangefield Old Boys had to a rearrange their Steel and Sons Cup tie.
But United boss Jim Pherson is looking forward to it.
“It will be great just to get started – and our matches with UUJ are always good, close games, played in a good spirit,” he said.
Elsewhere, there is another local derby at the Diamond, where 1B side Rathfern Rangers must be favourites up against a Mossley FC side who have lost the bulk of last year’s squad and started their season with three consecutive defeats.
Rathfern boss David McCrea, though, knows only too well that local derbies rarely go according to the form guide. “The way we’re playing, we’re so inconsistent, anything can happen,” he commented.
A few miles up the road, 18th Newtownabbey Old Boys will be underdogs as Derriaghy CC, third in 1A last season, visit Cloyne Crescent. Old Boys manager Garry Campbell concedes: “I haven’t seen them since I played against them for Mossley back in 2A and they’ve obviously made good progress since then.
“We’ll be up against it, but there’s a bit of confidence about our boys; unbeaten in our opening three matches, and we’ll certainly give it a go.”
Meanwhile, Wellington Rec travel to the so-called ‘Stadium of Sand’ on the Shore Road, and a Malachians pitch that has never been one of their happier hunting grounds. As joint-boss Kenny Thompson admitted: “We’ve never done that well down there, either against Malachians or Grove United, but this season, we’ve a bit more height in the team and, hopefully, we’ll cause problems with some of the set-pieces we’ll be working on.
“Scott Cowie will be back from suspension, but it will be hard; Malachians have made a few good signings during the summer.”
At this stage of the season, Cup matches are even more unpredictable than usual, given the amount of players signed or lost by teams during the close season, you’d expect Paul Foy’s new-look Nortel to get the better of 1B side Saintfield United, especially at the Factory Grounds, even thought the Saints were 2-1 winners on Saturday over Downshire YM.
Larne Tech OB, though, might not find it easy as they entertain 1B opposition in Sirocco Works, under new manager Darren Lockhart and player-coach Anderson.
Last year’s runners-up Islandmagee, too, face a tough test at home to the 2010 winners, Dromara Village.
Kilroot Rec, who were hit for double figures by Crusaders reserves in the Steel and Sons on Saturday, will be hoping to be at least competitive in their tie away to fellow 1C strugglers Dromore Amateurs, where they won 3-1 in the Border Cup last season.
Border Cup R1: Dromore Amateurs v Kilroot Rec; Larne Tech O.B. v Sirocco Wks; 18th N’abbey OB v Derriaghy; CC; Islandmagee v Dromara Village; Rathfern Rangers v Mossley FC; Nortel v Saintfield United; Malachians Wellington Rec; Barn United v UUJ.
Division 1C: St Patrick’ s YM v Newington Rangers