Hustlers are on course for a sensational cup double after demolishing a toothless TJ's Tigers. Only Premier Division league winners CWC A and last year's history making league winners TJ's A stand in their way.
In fact the top 3 teams in the Premier Division are all seeking a trophy double. CWC A have already wrapped up the league and they meet Hustlers in the Cunningham Cup final. TJ's A have bagged the Divisional Cup after they slaughtered Orchard Bar in a one sided final 5-0. TJ's face an in form Hustlers in the Vegas Cup final.
Thursday night saw saw 3rd placed Hustlers taking on TJ's Tigers while there was the small matter of deposed league champions and former double quadruple winners TJ's A taking on bitter rivals and newly crowned league champions CWC A in the other other semi.
Both games hinged on massive team selection decisions that were critical to the outcome of both matches.
TJ's Tigers made an immeasurable blunder when they played their weaker players 1st and saved their best players to the end of the match. Captain Gavin McNally started with Sean Rice and Nicky Irwin. Both steady players but nowhere near as talented as Individual last 16 contestant Jason Lennon and McNally himself, who were incredibly left until 7th and 8th on the team sheet.
TJ's Tigers were minus Niall O'Hare. The U21 N.I. international was away deep sea diving while his Tigers team were sinking quicker than Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the Titanic'.
Ciaran O'Neill was in first for Hustlers. He's been solid this this season but maybe didn't take the league by storm like last year. He got his Bellinis based side off to the perfect start when he outplayed Sean Rice.
Damian 'Diddles' McArdle is a journey man with suitcases of experience. He's a big game player and loves the pressure. It was no surprise that his tactical game was too strong for young Nicky Irwin. Diddles made it 2-0 and the pressure was now mounting on TJ's Tigers. They really needed this next frame to give them a boost and especially because it was another of their individual last 16 contestants Adrian Annett.
Annett couldn't have faced a more challenging opponent. Annett's attacking style was always going to be playing into Bernie Magee's hands. Magee's tactical masterclass was too good for Annett and it was 3-0.
2005 Division 1 individuals runner-up Billy O'Neill was taking on the new generation and another of the Tigers last 16 hopefuls Richie Taylor. Vastly improved Taylor stood in the way of a 4-0 deficit and surely elimination.
It wasn't their lucky night. Taylor had chances but O'Neill held firm to put Hustlers on the verge of massive result.
Micky Cunningham beat a talented Matty Cartmill to make it 5-0 before finally Tigers surfaced from their Den .Damien Kearney then made it 6-0 to hustlers.
It beggers belief why Jason Lennon was left until 7th on the team sheet. It's like leaving your penalty taker in the semi-final of the champions league until sudden death before letting him take his shot. Lennon went on to record their 1st frame of the night for 6-1.
Hustlers had downed tools by now and Gavin McNally tagged on their 2nd frame with a good win over talisman Cathal McCoy. Hustlers where still celebrating when Davy Hanna made the scoreline a little more respectable with win over Kevin Magee to finish the scoring at 6-3.
A great night for Hustlers and one to forget for TJ's Tigers.
TJ's A were the defending Cunningham Cup champions and they faced new league champions CWC A for the 5th time this season. The league meeting in TJ's ended 4-4. The return leg in CWC ended in a humiliation for TJ's 5-1. In the early season Vegas cup clash Tj's A took it 5-4 on a decider. They met in the Divisional cup which went 5-4 to TJ's A and yet again these two teams served up an absolute classic in their final dual against each other this season.
TJ's captain Laurence McAlinden gambled with Jack Courtney being pitted against CWC's legend Kieran McMahon. Was Courtney being sacrificed after a dreadful league campaign or did Larry believe his improved form of late would be enough to see of the 'Machine' McMahon? TJ's had played Manny Byrne against Kieran McMahon to 'fight fire with fire' with a good degree of success.
As it was Jack Courtney nicked the opener. Kieran McMahon looked all set to wrap up the 1st frame of the night but he agonisingly potted Courtney's yellow when he would have been perfect on the black. Courtney stepped in and cleared well using his 2 shots on the black for 1-0 TJ's A.
Declan McMahon could see his name up in lights when he went for the wonder finish against Harvey Lavelle. The TJ's star left a double on his last red but it rattled in the middle pocket and came out. Lavelle laid a good snooker but even though McMahon hit his Red the white flew into the pocket. Lavelle made no mistake in levelling up the match for 1-1.
Paddy Clarke is a bit of a jewel in the CWC crown. He played a few nice cannons and flicks en-route to a stunning break finish against the mercurial Manny Byrne for 2-1 CWC.
Cathal Phelan renewed his rivalry with Raymond McKenna. These two old Corrinshego team mates seem to meet a couple of times every year. Phelan got a lovely kiss off McKenna's ball to leave himself perfect on his last red and rolled home a tricky black along the cushion for 3-1 CWC.
TJ's badly needed a frame after losing the last 3. CWC A captain Pat Brady pulled a master stroke switching himself from 6th to 5th. TJ's had planned for it by sacrificing Stevie Noade 6th. Brady went earlier and it worked perfectly. Tristan Byrne was forced into going for a crazy finish which he very nearly pulled off. Byrne left himself with 1 ball while Brady had all 7 of his. You guessed what happened next! Brady got his 2 shots and cleared and CWC had a massive 4-1 lead.
Stephen Rooney had the chance to book CWC's spot in the final but after some erratic shots in a re-spotted black ball fight it was Noades that rolled in an easy black for 4-2.
Incredibly Shane Phelan and Laurence McAlinden got sucked into a 20min match and another re-spot was needed. Phelan had the last visit of the 20mins but just couldn't clear. TJ's captain McAlinden took the black for 4-3 to CWC and it was game on.
It was all square when Paul 'Bunty' O'Callaghan failed to cover a bottom pocket with his yellow. Former TJ's captain cleared with confidence to bring the match to a decider for the 3rd time this season.
How TJ's would have loved to have Stevie Teggart coming on now. He wasn't available but Eugene McDermott is a very good replacement. He was taking on CWC anchor man Paddy Tavey. The game was perfect for Tavey. McDermott took on a crazy finish and but for some bad luck he might just have got it. McDermott planted his 3rd last ball to pot his hanging yellow. He then played a stunning screw shot across for his last yellow into the middle pocket. The former top snooker player just landed on the wrong side of the yellow for position on the black. McDermott tried to hammer it home and screw round for the black. He missed the pot and was never on the black. Another poor shot but unlucky too, McDermott tried to cut the yellow across to the top pocket but it was a poor attempt and he only succeded in potting the white. It was kamikaze pool at it's best. Never in a million years would Stevie Teggart left himself in that predicament.
With McDermott's ball relatively safe and Tavey now with 2 shots, the pressure off. Paddy Tavey mopped up his reds with conviction and confidence. He made no mistake leaving a straight black to the middle pocket. Tavey rolled it home to the adulation of his CWC team mates.
That's the last time these two great teams can meet each other this season and what a treat we have been served up. Who knows what the future holds for these magnificent squads but we should certainly be grateful for this memorable 2016/17 season. And you never know, Hustlers might just do the business and round off a truly memorable season with a trophy too. And remember its only a game of pool.