OPINION: Poppies v Diamonds - a big game or an unneeded side attraction?

Ben Diamond scored one of the goals as AFC Rushden & Diamonds beat Kettering Town 3-2 in the BigFreeBet.com Challenge Cup earlier this season. The two teams meet again in the NFA Hillier Senior Cup semi-final at Latimer Park tonight. Picture by Peter Short
Ben Diamond scored one of the goals as AFC Rushden & Diamonds beat Kettering Town 3-2 in the BigFreeBet.com Challenge Cup earlier this season. The two teams meet again in the NFA Hillier Senior Cup semi-final at Latimer Park tonight. Picture by Peter Short

I have no doubt that in the build-up to and the aftermath of tonight’s (Tuesday) NFA Hillier Senior Cup semi-final at Latimer Park, various debates will have been played out on social media.

Is there a genuine, established rivalry between Kettering Town and AFC Rushden & Diamonds?

Should both managers rest their key players given that both clubs are in contention for promotion this season?

Is the Hillier Cup nothing more than an unneeded side attraction?

Will the team who loses out tonight really be that bothered?

Let’s have a look shall we...

Make no mistake about it, my own personal view is that there is a rivalry between the clubs. Far too much water went under the bridge with the original Rushden & Diamonds for there not to be.

Is it an established rivalry? No. I don’t think it can be until these two are meeting more often in bigger competitions - preferably in the same league and that is something that could yet happen as early as next season depending on what happens in the next three months or so.

With that, let’s skip to the fourth question of whether the losing team will be bothered.

Of course they will. No matter what team is put out by either club, no players wants to lose and no players will be happy if they do.

As far as the fans are concerned, I’m not sure. Tonight’s game and its result isn’t going to define either club’s season.

They have already met in the BigFreeBet.com Challenge Cup and, in the build up, I thought there was little feeling towards the tie.

Then the biggest crowd of the season showed up at Hayden Road, the Diamonds fans were delighted to see their team win and the Poppies supporters were unimpressed but also dismissive of the competition’s meaning.

So does tonight mean something? Does tonight really matter? The answer is: It will to the team who wins.

But what about the managers? I don’t envy them in this situation.

They want to win, of course. They want to keep their fans happy but, at the same time, there’s no doubt Marcus Law and Andy Peaks have their eyes locked on the bigger prize.

If either or both bosses make significant changes to their teams tonight, I wouldn’t blame them whatsoever.

And that leads us nicely to the other question I asked earlier on. ‘Is the NFA Hillier Senior Cup nothing more than an unneeded side attraction?’

Sadly, and certainly at this stage of the season, the answer is yes.

There’s plenty of history surrounding the Hillier Cup and, indeed, had it not been for the competition, the meetings between these two clubs would have been a lot less than it has been already.

But, with both clubs doing their best to earn promotion and give the county teams in higher levels than they already are, it always leads me to question the timing of this competition.

The Hillier Cup is important, it’s the main NFA competition and it deserves its place in the calendar.

But I wonder whether it could be used as an excellent pre-season tournament to give clubs an extra game (or games), which would mean so much more than the mind-numbing friendlies that are played out.

That, of course, is something for people far more important than me to think about.

For the time being though, I hope tonight’s game is a good one and I hope no player key to either club’s hopes of promotion picks up an injury.

That last paragraph just about sums it all up nicely!

Find reaction to tonight's clash on this website and in Thursday's Northamptonshire Telegraph