WITH the league trophy now nestled at Millbrae, Stirling County are today first-up to try and halt Ayr’s drive towards an historic first double success.
Highlighting the quality of both clubs, their under-18s sides also meet this afternoon in the semi-finals of the SRU Youth Cup, albeit with County the hosts for that one as underdogs Ayr bid to wrestle their grip from being the most dominant youth side in recent times.
But at Millbrae the league and cup double dream is very much on. Gala have pushed Ayr throughout the season but when Kenny Murray’s side got within touching distance of the league title last weekend they turned in one of their most convincing displays of the season to beat Currie 39-13, while, at the same time County were uncorking the Ayr champagne by beating the Maroons 26-21 at Bridgehaugh.
But Stirling are now eyeing their own chance of silverware, their first at the top level since their league triumph in 1994-95. Stirling have never appeared in a cup final, while hosts Ayr have featured in the last three, winning two before losing their crown to Gala last season, and the Bill McLaren Shield is also up for grabs today.
County coach Graeme Young said: “Ayr are the most consistent side this season and thoroughly deserve the title, but we have built momentum in recent weeks and are looking forward to the encounter.”
Gala hope to gain some consolation for missing out on the title by regaining the cup, but they travel to face an Aberdeen side that has collected 11 points from their last three league games with Gala coach George Graham insisting his team, missing skipper Opeta Palepoi to injury, are underdogs.
“As is always the case with Aberdeen it will be a very tough match,” he said.
“But we go to Rubislaw firmly the underdogs.
“We haven’t been playing at the level we were before Christmas and Aberdeen are the form team in the league at the moment.”
Melrose are keen to provide a cup-winning send-off for coach Craig Chalmers, who departs this summer, but they are not firing on all cylinders and have a tricky Borders derby against National League Selkirk at Philiphaugh.
Chalmers said: “We have had a great cup tradition over the years and the players are desperate to get through to the semi-finals once again.
“Selkirk will be a tough opponent and we know exactly what to expect from them. They have a gritty set of forwards with a few overseas imports and talented backs led by Fraser Harkness and Gav Craig.”
Boroughmuir also host Heriot’s this afternoon (3pm) in a crucial RBS Premiership match that could add to the nervous tension in the relegation battle as a home win could lift bottom club ‘Muir to within three points of Edinburgh Accies – currently in the play-off spot – and seven of Stirling and Dundee with two games still to play.
Aberdeen GSFP (v Gala at Rubislaw, 2.30pm): M Ward; G Walker, P Nacamavuto, G Clow, W Wardlaw; M Ryan, J Lauder; M Dixon, S Bingham, C McConnachie, A Cramond, S Smith, S Warnock (capt), T McGinness, C Turner. Subs: R Coates, N Fraser, G Ryan, M McColl, A O’Connor, T Aplin.
Gala: A McLean; G Sommerville, C Auld, C Borthwick, C Robertson; L Millar, G Graham; L Pettie, C MackIntosh, C Hogg, C Weir, G Graham, C Keddie, B Murray, E Dods Subs: M Chrystie, S Cairns, T Weir, G Young, B Turner.
Ayr (v Stirling County at Millbrae, 3pm): G Anderson; R Dalgleish, R Fergusson, D Kelbrick, C Gossman; F Russell, P Jericevich; D Mutamangira, S Fenwick, D Rae, S Sutherland, C White, G Fisken, A Dunlop, C Forrester (capt). Subs: H Wisnewski, G Sykes, R Doneghan, R Curle/P McCallum, M McConnell.
Stirling County: J Hope; B Addison, R Hogg, B Archibald, R Aitken; S Edwards, S Kennedy; M McDonald, A Moffat, C Hutton, R Leishman, C Deacons, T Clarke, R Boswell, S Swindall. Subs: D Gilmour, R Kennedy, C Black, S Robertson, B Barsanti.
Currie (v Dundee HSFP at Malleny Park, 3pm): J Forbes; A Hinds, S James, J Broadley, M Peacock; C van der Westerlo, R Snedden; A Hamilton, F Scott, F Watts, G Temple, S Marcel, M Cairns (capt), M Entwhistle, R Weston. Subs: B Emslie, M Erskine, S Burton, M Johnstone, A Whittingham.
Dundee HSFP: Team tbc
Selkirk (v Melrose at Philiphaugh, 3pm): F Harkness; R Banks, S Hendrie, R Nixon, D Clapperton; G Craig (capt), M McVie; C Lacour, S Forrest, C Graur, A Renwick, J Everitt, E MacDougall, A Duckett, R Crockatt. Subs: L MacLennan, M Robertson, S Renwick, J Bett, K Mitchell.
Melrose: F Thomson; C Anderson, B Dick, J Helps, A Dodds; A Skeen, B Colvine; C Keen, R Ferguson, G Holborn, P Eccles, G Dodds, J Dalziel, R Ovens, R Miller. Subs: W Mitchell, S Lowe, A Nagle, S McCormick, R Mill.