As a weel-kent resident of the district observed: “Facts are chiels that wanna ding.” Thus the fact tomorrow’s Scottish Junior Cup final, for the sixth straight year at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park, reinforces the impression that, for the juniors – “Real Fitba”, red in tooth and claw – Ayrshire is where it matters most.
Turmoil is everywhere in junior football, with a dozen East Region clubs jumping ship to join the senior East of Scotland League, and the West Superleague reforming from its current 12 clubs into a top 16 next season. Yet, some things seldom change.
The question: “Who are they playing this season?” indicates, yet again, Auchinleck Talbot are in the final.
The ’Bot – are they the Real Madrid of junior football, or are Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinadine Zidane and the rest the Talbot of Europe? – are seeking win number 12 in final number 15, with manager Tucker Sloan looking to surpass his legendary predecessor Willie Knox, with whom he is tied on five cup wins, and at the same time lift his 25th trophy as Talbot boss.
Facing them are Darren Henderson’s Hurlford United, winners over Glenafton Athletic, in their only previous final, in 2013-14 and determined to upset the odds with another victory tomorrow.
Talbot were edged out by Glenafton in the final last season, and Sloan, pictured, is determined they will not suffer back-to-back final defeats. So, there is added pressure on Sloan and his experienced troops to get it right.
You can throw the form book out of the window when two Ayrshire sides reach the cup final; Talbot, two wins away from a league and cup double, will start as favourites, while United, after spending most of the season in the relegation zone, have hit some fine form and pulled clear of the end-of-season play-off places for the new extended West Premier Division next season. So, this one is maybe harder than most to call.
Hurlford may not have Talbot’s cup pedigree, but they have at least one player who knows all about big games.
Mark Roberts, man of many senior clubs, ex-player-manager at Ayr United and coach at Clyde, is, at 42 enjoying his first taste of the Juniors, with Hurlford. He is their player of the year and would surely like to cap his long career with a winner’s medal.