TOMORROW’S Gordon West Cup quarter-final clash against Newry at Bradley Way is a season-defining clash for Strabane.
Victory maintains their quest for silverware but defeat all but ends their campaign as Monaghan are too far ahead at the summit of Kukri Ulster Championship 3.
It’s a fixture that has been to the front of the Strabane team’s mind since the draw was made in November and it’s one they can’t wait to tackle.
“We’re looking forward to the quarter-final because it seems a long time coming because it was released a month before Christmas, so we’ve been building up to it and building up to it,” explained versatile Strabane back, David Rankin.
“The boys are eager to get stuck into it and get past it, hopefully.”
A tight tussle is anticipated this weekend between two teams who have been separated by just one point following their league encounters that have left them with a win apiece.
With each of those victories going to the home side, Rankin hopes that form continues tomorrow because he is eager to erase the memories of back-to-back Gordon West Cup final defeats to Monaghan and Holywood in 2012 and 2013 at Ravenhill (now Kingspan Stadium).
“It’ll be a tight affair,” he acknowledged. “We’d love to get into the final. It’s been a long time since we’ve been to Ravenhill.
“We got to two finals and got promoted under Willie Gibson during that time, but only myself, Adam Cummings and Gary Smith are still involved from that squad.
“It’s an all new set-up compared to them, but it would be lovely to get back to a final.”
Going into Saturday’s last eight clash, both sides will be confident of victory on the back of decent runs of league form.
Since the turn of the year Newry have lost 12-10 at Letterkenny, won 20-17 at Cavan and beaten Civil Service 38-7, while Strabane have won 29-19 at Cavan, 57-10 over Civil Service and 20-12 at Belfast High School Former Pupils before last weekend’s disappointing 7-8 home reverse to the PSNI.
That defeat to the police was played in atrocious conditions at the Meadows where Matthew Wilson missed a late penalty to win it for Strabane after they had been pegged back following Lee McLaughlin’s opening try, converted by Wilson.
“We weren’t that far away on Saturday,” acknowledged the Strabane back. “It wasn’t to be, but it would have set us up nicely going into the Newry game but you can’t take much from last week because it wasn’t much of a rugby affair at all.
“It was a horrible game to play in. It was 0-0 until about five minutes before half-time and I thought we were never going to score. It was one of those games. You couldn’t pass more than five yards because the ball was being blown left, right and centre.
“But those two away games, Cavan and Belfast High, we normally don’t travel that well, so to win both of those will give us some confidence.”
Strabane’s squad for tomorrow will remain much the same as last week with influential centre Jack Graham likely still unavailable but the pack has been boosted in recent weeks by the returns of Cummings and Gordon Blair.
*Kick-off at Bradley Way is 2.30pm tomorrow.