The 28th renewal of the premier knock out competition for clubs in all four provincial unions resumes next Saturday at the 2nd round stage with 6 teams already having taken part in the preliminary first round last weekend.
Since its inception in 1982 when NICC were successful the destination of the trophy has been evenly spread across the three major unions with NCU teams winning on 5 occasions,North West and LCU on 4 wins each. Interestingly NCU clubs won the Cup in 11 out of the first 14 years of competition through the victories of NICC, Waringstown, Downpatrick, Lurgan and North Down who triumphed for the third time in 1995 with a last ball defeat of Bready at Comber. This was the last success by an NCU club as the last 13 renewals have resulted in victories for clubs from LCU or North West. Indeed the massive dominance of LCU clubs is best illustrated by the fact that their clubs have won the trophy in 7 of the last 8 seasons and one club – North County – have almost laid claim to outright ownership with 5 wins since 2001.
During the last decade only Cliftonville with an unsuccessful appearance in the final in 2001 have reached the decider as representatives of NCU. The overall strength of clubs in LCU which can be explained by the social and economic conditions triggered by the Celtic Tiger together with a more relaxed attitude to overseas players which is mirrored in the North West may be an explanation of this dominance but perhaps more tellingly the Irish Cup would not be the top priority of the more successful clubs in NCU cricket and this attitude is probably borne out by recent results.
The current round of FPT matches which pits Ireland against Hampshire on Sunday at Eglinton will mean that clubs will be without their Irish players for the Irish Cup matches the previous day unless coach Phil Simmons relaxes his current policy. With the Irish game on home turf it would perhaps facilitate players in playing for both club and country over the weekend.
Cup holders North County (right) who are bidding for an unprecedented treble open their defence of the Cup with a visit to Bangor and even without the injured Andre Botha should prove too strong for the home side. By an incredible coincidence Bready and Waringstown meet again for the 3rd year running this time at Magheramason. Games between the renowned Cup specialists are always close and this time will be no different.
Three NCU sides travel to Dublin with Instonians facing a stern challenge at The Hills, Ballymena looking to make a winning Cup appearance at Merrion and NCU kingpins North Down visiting Rush where the home side have an excellent record in this competition. Carrick were first out of the hat against Clontarf but with Middle Road unplayable have opted to forgo home advantage and will travel to Dublin in the hope of fulfilling the fixture.
Of the remaining ties CSNI should benefit from home advantage when they entertain Phoenix at Stormont while I fancy Lisburn to continue their good start to the season with a victory over Coleraine at Wallace Park.Eglinton travel to Belmont to play a revamped CIYMS side but the visitors may prevail and progress to the third round.
In conclusion I wonder if history was made in the first round when, after 2 unsuccessful attempts to play their tie were thwarted by the weather, Woodvale and Old Belvedere resolved the match by means of a telephonic Bowl out!!