The 2017 version of the Schools Cup Final will take place this Friday 16 June at Moylena, the picturesque home of Muckamore CC. This is the very much the spiritual home of the competition for so many of the Finals have been held there. Furthermore the cup for which they play, although sponsored by the Ulster Bank was originally presented by Muckamore and is inscribed in memory of one of their iconic former members, Ferguson Grainger.
The two semi-finals provided very different matches. First of all RBAI powered their way past Friends' School at Osborne Park last Wednesday, 7th June. Although reduced to 27 for 2 wickets with both openers back in the pavilion, Inst batted with great assurance to post a very imposing total of 279. The Metcalfe brothers, Michael Lightbody and Brendan McCarthy all scored heavily, ensured that their team made best use of the full 40 overs available, and especially towards the end of the innings ran impressively between the wickets.
With the Osborne Park ground in tip-top condition and the boundaries long (But not too long) these qualities contributed to setting a target that would challenge any side. Alas for Friends' School the prolific Reece Malone, having survived one chance to square cover, perished by the same method. The Inst bowling and out-cricket matched the standard which their batting had set and with the subtleties of Ben Rose's off-spin to the fore they rapidly wrapped up the visitor's innings well before the forecast rain arrived.
On Saturday, Wallace High School made the journey over the Glenshane Pass to face Foyle College in what will prove to have been (apparently) the last Schools' Cup match to be played at Foyle's Springtown grounds. By the time next season comes around they expect to be playing at their new-build School and ground off the Limavady Road!
The overnight rain and some showers thereafter meant that the match was curtailed to 29 overs and the visitors posted an impressive 158 for 3 in their allotment. This was based around and outstanding knock from Johnny Hunter with sound support from Josh Cardosi and young Nathan Doak. Although Foyle have a variety of bowling options they were unable to prevent Hunter from enabling his side to reach a score which was always going to take some chasing.
That the equation was so evenly balanced is proved by Foyle coming up a tantalising 2 runs short. As in their quarter Final Kyle Magee got them off to a good start but despite McComb's 43 not out they couldn't quite reach the target. Wallace bowled well as a unit with Doak once again making a telling contribution.
From a personal point of view I am disappointed that I wont be able to get along to what promises to be yet another exciting and well contested final. In 2016 BRA defeated RBAI thanks to a top innings by Max Burton just when all looked lost. In 2015 Francis Collins turned the tables on Campbell (in a final played at Osborne Park) and 2014's version was an RBAI victory over Foyle at Moylena when that game seemed to be slipping away from them. Who will turn the tables this time? Or will it be plain sailing for one of the teams? I can only strongly recommend that you go along to find out for these 40 over finals are normally a great advert for schools' cricket.