THERE is a sign in the window of “the Madhouse”, as Auchinleck’s Market Inn is known locally, which reads simply: “Auchinleck Talbot – the Real Madrid of the Juniors”. It is a claim with which few will argue.
The Scottish Junior Cup final, sponsored this year by Dyslexia Scotland, will be contested at Rugby Park tomorrow afternoon, and, surprise, surprise, Talbot will be involved. This will be the Ayrshire club’s 13th final, their sixth in the last decade, and – with ten wins in their previous 12 finals – when it comes to winning the top prize in the junior game nobody does it better, or more consistently.
Their opponents in tomorrow’s showpiece are Musselburgh Athletic, whom Talbot beat in the 2006 final. Talbot’s place in the big game is no surprise, Burgh’s probably is. They were rank outsiders when drawn to face Linlithgow Rose in the semi-final, but they pruned the Rose down to size to reach their third final.
It is difficult to see past another Talbot win. They are the form club, they disposed of cup-holders Hurlford with aplomb in the semi-final, before beating them again to clinch the Stagecoach West of Scotland Superleague crown. In contrast, Burgh have struggled since their semi-final win, winning just twice in 12 games, and languishing in mid-table in the East Superleague, but Talbot manager Tommy “Tucker” Sloan is not treating an 11th cup win as a given.
He is all too aware that the last time Talbot seemingly “only had to turn up to win the cup”, against Shotts Bon Accord, at Livingston in 2012, they didn’t turn up and went home empty handed.
“That defeat still hurts,” says Sloan. “However, there are enough of us here who lived through that to ensure that, while we will start as favourites, we will not be taking anything for granted.”
Sloan, in his 12th season as Talbot manager, is seeking his own piece of history. A win tomorrow will bring him level with legendary predecessor, Willie Knox, who guided the club to five wins, including their unique three-in-a-row run, between 1986 and 1992. He is unconcerned about the comparison with Knox. “That’s for when I finish with football,” he said. “Sunday is simply about winning. What has pleased me about this campaign is we’ve played our best football in the Scottish.
“To go to Meadow Park and score four without reply was great, then, after being held to a draw at home, we went to Bonnyrigg and won, while we totally dominated Hurlford. We have played at a high level throughout the run.”
Musselburgh is something of a family club. The secretary is May McGlynn, wife of club chairman Charlie, who is the brother of the better-known John McGlynn.
John McGlynn will miss the final – he is on holiday, as should May and Charlie be, had they not forgotten the final was in June this year. They will fly out on Monday.
Charlie McGlynn refuses to believe his side has no chance. “Yes, our league form has been terrible this season but we fully deserve to be in this final, since we have played really well in the cup,” he said.
“I know a lot of people expected Linlithgow to beat us but we’ve got a very good cup record against them and winning there wasn’t the first time that has happened – we’re not surprised at being in the final.”
McGlynn puts his side’s poor form since the semi-final down to manager Stevie McLeish being unable to consistently field the same team. “We’ve had injuries and suspensions to cope with, and, safe in mid-table, Stevie has been able to use his squad, safeguarding some players who were one booking away from a suspension which might keep them out of the final and this gave everyone a chance of claiming a spot in Sunday’s team,” he said.
That policy has been praised by Sloan, who admits, if his side hadn’t been chasing a league and cup double, he, too, would have rung the changes.
“It will all be on which team wants it more on the day and, with our full squad available, I am sure we will perform better than of late. I am confident we can do it,” insisted McGlynn.
And why not? Any team which includes a striker who has rattled the net over 40 times this season, as Athletic’s 42-goal Jordyn Sheerin has managed, have a real chance in a one-off game. Musselburgh gave Talbot a real fright in 2006. “If that game had lasted ten more minutes, I’m sure we would have won,” McGlynn said. Athletic’s aim is to give the favourites an even bigger fright tomorrow.