ARDSTRAW face a crucial period in their season as they bid to make progress in two cup competitions.
With just one league game left to complete, ‘Straw are fully focused on the knockout competitions, starting with a Northern Ireland Intermediate Challenge Cup quarter-final tie against Magherafelt Sky Blues tomorrow (Saturday) before turning their attention to a Northern Ireland Intermediate League Cup semi-final against neighbours Strabane, which has been pencilled in for Wednesday, April 3.
It’s all to play for for Lee Warnock’s side and captain Darren Boyd is well aware that Ardstraw’s season could be cut short if they don’t advance in either or both of the cup competitions.
Boyd, who stands suspended for Saturday’s clash at Vaughan’s Holm, won’t need reminding that Ardstraw have yet to taste silverware success since joining the intermediate ranks more than a decade ago.
“The players are certainly looking forward to these cup games,” he said.
“We know that if we don’t get the results then our season is effectively over. That should be all the motivation we need.
“It’s been three years since we have been to a cup final and for this group of players, in particular the senior ones, its getting to the stage that if we are ever going to win a trophy it’ll have to be this season or next.
“For the older players it would nice to have something to show for our efforts.”
In terms of league position the Sky Blues will start as slight favourites on Saturday but with home advantage the North Tyrone men will be looking to spring a surprise.
The last time the sides met at Vaughan’s Holm at the beginning of January it finished one apiece and Boyd will be hoping that his players can go one better on this occasion.
Traditionally games between the two sides have been physical and, at times, fiesty and Boyd is expecting more of the same this weekend.
“We will start as underdogs but we will be going all out to win,” he continued.
“In that drawn game at home Sammy (McKelvey) got sent off early on but we produced a really good performance.
“There is always plenty of needle in the games with Magherafelt and we will have to match that physicality on Saturday. I think we would be the better footballing side but we need to be up for the battle.
“It’s going to be tight game, there’s certainly not going to be a four or five goal swing either way.
“The cups offer us an opportunity to put a gloss on what has been something of a disjointed season. It’s been the lack of consistency more than anything else.
“That’s not to say its been a wasted season by any means . There have been positives, the main one being that we have seen the continued development of some of the younger players.”
Elsewhere in the Challenge Cup Strabane Athletic will entertain Newbuildings United hoping to keep alive their treble hopes while in the other two ties Trojans are at home to Oxford United Stars while Maiden City visit Dungiven.