Gordon West Cup Final: Limavady v Lurgan (Kingspan Stadium, Saturday, 3.00pm)
What a difference a year makes for Limavady Rugby Club.
Twelve months ago the Roesiders went into the Gordon West Cup final having never won a competitive game at the home of Ulster rugby and huge underdogs against Qualifying Three champions and then holders, Larne. The sides had met three times before the Ravenhill showpiece and each time Larne had edged out Paul O’Kane’s team.
The final was different a an inspired Limavady ran in eight tries to secure the cup in the some emphatic of fashion. Hopefully the memories are still fresh in Limavady minds because they provide a cautionary tale as Limavady return to the Kingspan Stadium seeking to retain the trophy.
Limavady are the hotter than hot favourites after an 21-game unbeaten Qualifying Three campaign that has included two victories over this weekend’s opposition, Lurgan.
O’Kane knows the position the Mid-Ulster men find themselves in after last year using the same scenario to such devastating effect. And he must guard against any form of complacency.
The league meetings between the two suggest an Lurgan improvement as the season has developed. Back in October Limavady went to town on a very disjointed Lurgan side to run out 83-0 winners, running in a staggering 13 tries. Fast forward to January and the Roesiders had to dig very deep to record a 24-7 win.
There have also been major personnel changes since last season’s triumph so quite a few of the Limavady squad will be sampling the final for the first time. Gone from the pack are the experienced pair of Marcus McCollum and Ian Campbell, while Richard McCollum and Perry Semple are also missing from last year’s starting back row. In the back line, gone are potential match winners Ross Moore and Chrissy Hunter.
The league form suggests all have been adequately replaced but a final is an unique experience and Limavady have some injury worries too.
Tight head prop John McCollum remains a major doubt as he follows protocols after succumbing to more than one concussion in recent months but both Michael Rice and Sam Mackey are both expected to shake off knocks and take their place on Saturday.
Last Saturday’s bruising encounter with Belfast High School Former Pupils took also its toll on the squad with John Purcell now a major doubt with a wrist injury. Along with skipper Daniel Irvine, who has a hamstring injury, these two have been the mainstay of the Limavady pack all season and to lose either would be a huge blow.
Sheagh McLaughlin, Chris Tinney and Kent King wait in the wings if needed but on the plus side, Clive Scott and Peter Browne returned to action and came through that Greenisland encounter unscathed.
In the backs the doubt is the experienced Greg Jordan. ‘Kiwi’ is nursing a back injury and is rated at 50/50. Peter Wilson suffered a dead leg but should take his place at full-back.
Those are the circumstances but the simple truth is the Gordon West Cup’s fate remains in Limavady’s hands. Play to their potential and they will make it back-to-back victories. Anything else, well, they only have to look back 12 months to see what underdogs can do.
Players To Watch
Daniel Irvine: Captain and talisman, Irvine twill be expected to lead the charge at the Kingspan Stadium. Only turned 21 which must make him one of the youngest skippers in the Province.
Peter Browne & Sam Mackey (Back Row): New recruits this season who have excelled in the back row.
John Purcell (Second Row) and Clive Scott (Prop): The two ‘oul hands of the pack but have still produced some barnstorming runs. Bring vital experience.
Jamie ‘Mo’ Miller (out-half/centre): Has added a steely defence to the young Roesiders’ backline and has also chipped in with some very important tries during the season.
Luke Faulkner (scrum-half): Pulls the strings in a side that boasts an almost new backline which appeared in last year’s final.
Robert Lamberton (winger): Top scorer and superb finisher. Will be a big threat for the Roesiders.