In the race to get over the line and lift this season’s Premier Cup prize, the final tonight offers a clash between one club calling on current momentum against another drawing on past magic.
If the traditional belief stands that the journey to the top proves tough but the battle to retain that status stands as a greater test, Richhill AFC and Hanover line out in Armagh as examples of both viewpoints.
Hanover return to Holm Park motivated by the memories of last season’s triumph over Tandragee Rovers in the same city venue.
As holders of the Mid-Ulster Football Association silverware showpiece, the Portadown-based squad can count on the confidence that comes from experience.
In contrast, Richhill AFC enter the big night as a reward for rebuilding and in search of securing a first Premier Cup honour since the club’s formation in 2016.
Initial glory following the amalgamation between Richhill and Broomhill AFC produced promotion and cup success but a difficult spell led to Marty Rice’s arrival in October 2017 and subsequent rise.
January 2018 left Richhill AFC rooted to the bottom of the Mid-Ulster Intermediate League Section A standings and without cup consolation.
One year on and the villagers’ preparations for the knockout showdown include back-to-back league wins and some coveted cup scalps on the path to the final.
“With the team adrift at the bottom of Intermediate A in 2017 having failed to win any league games, the turn of the year saw a total transformation in our results, winning eight and drawing one of our last 14 games to finish well clear of relegation,” said Richhill AFC boss Marty Rice. “With Hanover’s recent cup successes and with them currently well clear at the top of the league, they obviously enter the cup final as massive favourites with all the expectations and pressure that brings.
“The underdog tag sits well with ourselves as we couldn’t have had a more difficult run to the final, after having been drawn away to Banbridge Rangers and Moneyslane, then facing Crewe at home in the semi-final.
“While the players get all the applause for reaching a cup final, I’ve been involved in football long enough to know that any success on the pitch only comes from the foundation of work behind the scenes.
“Richhill AFC is in the very lucky position of having a very hard-working chairman and committee.
“The progress and growth that I have seen in my short time at the club has been astonishing, with the recent opening of our own social club being only one of a number of changes.
“The committee continues to make Richhill AFC a real social hub of the local community while still ensuring the financial sustainability of the club as a whole.
“In 2019 we will see further changes, making it an exciting time to be part of this progressive, ambitious club.”
Hanover manager Steven Hyndes is aiming to steer his side to a third trophy across two seasons - with that search for sustained success the driving force behind the club’s continued commitment.
“Last year was brilliant, to win two trophies, so we came into this season asking the question of the players could they achieve consistency and the message was very much “anything silver”,” said Hyndes. “An early target after taking over was to reach a first final, then you want to win it and then it is about can you win again and become consistent winners?
“Hanover has a proud trophy tradition and a brilliant modern set-up off the back of hard work across the club, from our exciting youth development to the vision of the committee.
“But we want to be established as a club capable of looking back on a regular run of trophies and that’s why everyone is dedicated to setting and maintaining our own high standards.
“That’s what it takes to progress and meet the next challenge you set and credit to everyone for sharing in that belief and giving up so much time, especially around this time of the year.
“Players with time off work have then come in for extra training sessions in preparation for the cup final.
“And it takes that dedication to even be in the running to achieve anything, given the strong standard of Mid-Ulster League clubs.
“People make assumptions about us coming into the final as favourites due to past success but Richhill’s form overall has been really strong with the exception of one blip.
“Both clubs will prepare in the right way and it is set for an exciting final.
“Richhill have managed to beat some of the best teams around to get to the final and in such a big game it comes down to doing the preparation then producing on the night.”
A supporters’ bus has been organised from the village via Andy Matthews on 07841027163, with club chairman Neil Megaw hoping “the Richhill residents and other local football supporters will come out on the night and give our management team and players their support again”.
The confirmed Premier Cup final squads are as follows:
HANOVER: Matthew Shortt, Nathan White, Shane McKinney, Adam White, Jamie Rooney, Michael Wilson, Gary Topley, Chris Kerr, Jake Richardson, James Sergeant, Steven McClelland, Matthew Brown, Richard Lappin, Jake Gilpin, Justin Bradley, Steven Douglas.
RICHHILL AFC: Max Krustins, John Daly, Gary McCoo, Robbie Dodds, Matty Wright, Charles Jones, Ryan Metcalfe, Nicky Finlay, Steven Hewitt, Ryan Harper, Andy Moore, James Nesbitt, Ben Rice, Mark Lucas, Andrew Allen, Liam Rice, Gareth Rees, Jason Dickson, Barry Quinn, David Ross, Richard Nesbitt, Adam Nesbitt.
Kick-off will be 7.30 at Armagh City’s Holm Park, with admission £5 and £3 concession.