RHYL manager John Hulse will be without three key cup-tied players for tomorrow’s Challenge Cup Final against Caersws as he targets his eighth trophy in five triumphant years at Belle Vue.
Hulse’s midas touch includes victories in the finals of 2003 and 2004, only to miss out on a hat-trick in the 2005 final.
“Now we are through again and looking forward to another big occasion,” said the Lilywhites boss.
Not even the absence of Chris Roberts (ex-Cefn Druids), Paul Roberts (Bangor City) and Ross Stephens (Caersws) has dimmed Rhyl’s confidence, with a strong squad ready to fill the gaps.
Hulse added: “We always knew we would be without these lads but it means that the players who got us into the final get the chance to finish the job and bring another prestigious and profitable trophy to Belle Vue.
“It’s going to be tough because Caersws are a hard-working side with a fine manager in Mickey Evans. We drew 1-1 there in the league in December and they are always capable of beating the better sides, so we know what we’re up against.”
The showdown’s Aberystwyth venue was not one Hulse would have wanted, believing TNS or Porthmadog would have been preferable.
“It is a bit disappointing but the powers that be have decided in their wisdom, and we must make sure now we follow on from our excellent win at Haverfordwest last week where we could have finished with five or six goals.”
Striker Chris Sharpe has been given the green light to resume full training next week after an excellent report from his surgeon following his fractured leg.
“We don’t want to push him too soon in any way, but to know that Chris is A1 again is just great,” Hulse added.
Caersws will be chasing a hat-trick of Challenge Cup triumphs themselves, writes John Bridgwater.
The Bluebirds have already played three finals at Park Avenue, resulting in two victories and a penalty shoot-out defeat.
They are now back there again and will be keen for silverware in what has been a difficult season.
“It’s nice to be back there again as it’s a day for everyone at the club to look forward to,” said manager Mickey Evans. He added: “We’ve had some good times at Aberystwyth in the past and we’ll be giving it our best shot again.
“Rhyl are the favourites, but we had a tight game when we played them in the league earlier this season.
“It’s a final – anything can happen on the day and no-one gave us a chance when we beat Barry to stop them getting the treble.”
That was the first time the Bluebirds lifted the trophy, winning 2-0 in 2001 after Afan Lido beat them on penalties in the inaugural final in 1993.
Their third final at Aberystwyth resulted in a 2-1 win against Cwmbran Town in 2002.
And Evans believes his side fully merit their place in this season’s showdown, having navigated a tricky passage to compensate for a disappointing league campaign.
“It’s been difficult. We had a tough group stage of local derbies and then we had to play Carmarthen and Aberystwyth in the knockouts,” he said. “We didn’t have much luck with the draw so we’re certainly there on merit.”
Caersws hope to be near full strength, with the only doubt surrounding the influential Chris Venables.
The midfielder, who has been a target of tomorrow’s opponents, has been struggling with a shoulder injury that has seen him miss his side’s last two games.