THE challenge for Needham Market will be playing the game and not the occasion in the Veo Suffolk Under-18 Midweek Cup Final.
So said manager Colin Grogan, whose side will be playing in their first county cup final for nine seasons when they face AFC Sudbury in the final at Colchester United FC, on Wednesday, kick-off 7.30pm
The club’s last appearance in the final came in the forerunner of this competition back in the 2013-14 season when they lost 2-1 to Cornard United in the Suffolk Boys’ Under-18 Cup/Sunday Cup.
The competition split into two the following season, with Woodbridge Town winning the inaugural Suffolk U18 Midweek Cup, since when it has been dominated by AFC Sudbury.
Grogan said: “I think it is fair to say an appearance in the final is well overdue after nine years. It certainly hasn't been through a lack of trying but for a variety of reasons we have fallen short, as we did in the semi finals last year, losing 2-1 to Sudbury.
“Over that period we've had some really good teams and players, a number of whom are now well established first-team players which is something we can't lose sight of when measuring the success of our U18s and developing young players in the academy.”
Grogan said playing the final at a Football League stadium will make it a special occasion for everyone connected with the club.
“There are lots of people behind the scenes, including parents, who do untold amounts of work to provide the platform for coaches and players to reach a cup final and it provides a special day for everyone involved at the club.
“I hope we can put on a performance to make them proud and ultimately lift the cup.
“Having the opportunity to play the final in a Football League stadium will make it all the more special, particularly for those lads who will be experiencing it for the first time.
“The challenge will be playing the game and not the occasion, as finals are always more memorable when you win them.”
AFC Sudbury will go bidding for a seventh straight success in the competition, but Grogan said he is hoping the long wait to reach the showpiece occasion gives his side the edge.
“I’m not sure it gives AFC Sudbury an advantage as both sides will have players who haven't experienced a final in these circumstances and it will come down to who adapts best on the night and plays the better football.
“After nine years of waiting, I'm hoping it may just give our lads the edge.”
The final is the third adult county cup final the club will have been involved in this season, Needham having already won the Endeavour Automotive Suffolk Premier Cup, while their Women’s side play Bungay Town in the MH Goals Suffolk Women’s Cup on Tuesday.
Grogan said of the prospect of achieving a hat-trick of wins: “It’s testament to the club that we have three teams competing in the finals and to win a treble of county cups in a season would be an unbelievable achievement, and something l am sure everyone involved with Needham Market FC would be very proud of.”
Needham Market Under-18s are pictured above celebrating a goal this season. Photograph: Ben Pooley