By Matt Styles
Aidan’s A comprehensively swept aside Staff A 5-1 to reach the final of this year’s Floodlit Cup on Wednesday night, but with Collingwood still in the mix they cannot afford to get carried away.
The Aidan’s faithful braved the cold and flocked to Maiden Castle in their droves to witness a comfortable victory for their side. They unlocked the Staff defence at will and were consistently slick and assured in possession, with DUAFC 2s striker Harrison Pitt wreaking havoc throughout.
With the scores at 3-0, Staff were awarded a penalty for handball in the second half, which they converted, but Aidan’s showed their maturity by responding moments later with a fourth, before wrapping up a polished performance with another to secure their place in the final.
Though this was routine for the best of the rest in the men’s Premiership, they have endured a difficult route to the final that will leave them feeling confident of going the distance. A 3-1 victory in November over Hatfield, the current holders of the competition, came before a nailbiting win against a perennially formidable Van Mildert outfit, where they ran out 3-2 victors on penalties.
The remaining semi-final is between the ever-dominant Collingwood and Stephenson who, like Staff, are languishing in the relegation zone and have had a disappointing season, but will hope the magic of the cup can carry them through.
Naturally, you would expect Collingwood to win from this position, given that they are top of the Premiership and have already dispatched the other teams left in the cup in the league this season.
However, Aidan’s co-captain Sam Telling insists that league form has little to no bearing when it comes to the Floodlit.
“Anything can happen”, he tells Palatinate. “We don’t give up easily and we have got good players. There’s a really good level of commitment to the club on the pitch, which is reinforced by the class social scene off it”.
Telling added: “Confidence is high after the semi-final victory, we were pleased that we ran out comfortable winners in a game that could easily have descended into a scrappy affair. Whoever we meet in the final will be a tough game but it is one we firmly believe we can win.”
Meanwhile, Stephenson captain Ollie Theakston and his team are up for the fight, asserting that there is “absolutely nothing” stopping them from clinching the Floodlit crown.
“We’ve been the underdogs in the past so our team understands what it feels like. However, we play off being the underdogs in the way teams approach playing us.
“Having watched the match last year where JoBo stunned Collingwood, we know it’s possible to win and would love to overcome the favourites in the competition”.
He believes his side are “very close knit and will fight for each other on the pitch. This coupled with the quality that we have can cause any team problems and on our day we can beat anyone.
“The college definitely has the best supporters I have ever seen in any Floodlit game during my time here and to say they are rowdy is an understatement. The feeling you get when playing in front of the crowd makes you not want to do it for just you and the team, but for the college as well. Our supporters will be living in Collingwood’s head, rent free, no bills included, this Wednesday”
He also tells us to keep an eye out for “Peer, our keeper, our knight in shining armour. Although he can’t take his own goal kicks, don’t let this fool you, he’s like a cat in-between the sticks and all the women will be cheering him on. Also look out for our 6’8” South African giant, who will have Ben Parkinson and the rest of his team in his back pocket (his pockets are huge). With reference to Delia Smith: ‘Let’s be havin’ ya’.”
After failing to make it three Floodlit trophies on the spin last year, Collingwood will be looking to make amends this time out but won’t see this as a formality. Though Richard Brooks has captained the A’s in the league this season, DU 1s stalwart Callum Elson has been taking charge of their Floodlit affairs.
Speaking ahead of their clash against Stephenson, he was quick to point out the irrelevance of reputation and downplayed the importance of league position.
“We’ve faced Stevo in the league already and they showed signs of a good team, with some individual quality and plenty of team spirit. It’s the latter that can be most dangerous on an occasion like this, but I hope we can replicate the same ourselves and give it that extra bit to see us through the tie.
“In the Floodlit everyone turns up ready to win and line-ups can be totally different from what you would see in the league”.
While this is true, Elson spoke modestly. Though Van Mildert have games in hand, Collingwood A, B and C currently occupy the top three positions in the Premiership and have a ruthless winning mentality that stretches across their 14 college sides, as demonstrated by the fact that CCAFC have not had a team relegated from any of the seven divisions since 2015/16.
The challenge for Collingwood now is to handle the expectation and win the psychological battle against a Stephenson side who will look to use their underdog status to their advantage.
“In three years I’ve never played a game for Collingwood A where we’ve not been considered the favourites, it comes naturally with the reputation of the college. As witnessed last year, anything can happen in the Floodlit, and so we’ll treat this game like any other and need to perform at our best”.
On the subject of facing Aidan’s in the final, Elson was quick to point out that “It’s irrelevant to us at this point as we’re not through to the final”, but conceded that they “have a great set of lads this year, many of which are prominent members of the University football set up, so they play some good football.
“Should we get there then we’ll relish the challenge to face them”.
Overall it will be an exciting climax to the first Floodlit of the new decade. Last year proved that it is futile to speculate or dwell too much on league position. Instead, we should embrace the unpredictability of college football and watch the drama unfold.
Hatfield were the outsiders but emerged victorious, with captain Ben Gould saying this time last year that “Floodlit is the pinnacle of college football and with the fans cheering under the lights, anything can happen on Wednesday night. It’s coming home”. He was absolutely right.
Collingwood’s clash with Stephenson will take place next Wednesday at 20:15 on Rubber Crumb 2.
Image: Toby Hillery