Waringstown out to make history
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
Waringstown will attempt to become only the second team in the 35-year history of the Irish Cup to retain the trophy tomorrow when they face Merrion in this year's final at Castle Avenue.
It is already a showpiece first - with the same two teams meeting in successive years - but looking at their recent records, that is hardly surprising.
This is Merrion's fifth appearance in the Irish Cup decider in seven years and Waringstown's third in six; the big difference being that Waringstown have won both previous finals, while the Ballsbridge side will be out to a avoid a fourth successive defeat.
The other, perhaps crucial, difference is that this time Waringstown do not have home advantage.
"It is always better to play at home, especially in a final - it made the occasion even more enjoyable last year - but we have fond memories of Clontarf," said Villagers skipper Lee Nelson, referring to last year's thrilling quarter-final win there when they - just - defended 316.
That game was most notable for Waringstown professional Ruhan Pretorius hitting six sixes in an over but this year the NCU side are hoping that their current South African overseas player can be a hit in the final.
"We have a different professional this year but Cobus (Pienaar) has done really well for us, I think he is second in the bowling averages and in the batting top 10, but we are looking forward to playing in another Irish Cup final," added Nelson.
In fact, the skipper believes the team were already thinking of the showpiece last Saturday and took their eye of the ball, leading to a crucial league defeat, which cost them the joint leadership, at Carrickfergus.
Despite their recent history in the competition, Nelson said: "Irish Cup finals are not easy to come by and in the build-up it is easy to get distracted. I'm not taking anything away from Carrick who played well and Pat Botha (their South African professional) did well, but we were not as sharp as we could have been.
"Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that our Premier League game last Sunday against (leaders) Instonians was postponed. We play that as a 20-over match next Tuesday evening."
Merrion are at the other end of the Leinster Division 1 table, only one off the bottom with just three wins from their 10 games, but Nelson is not reading too much into those statistics.
"They are a very, very difficult side to play and I think they are in a false position," he said. "They have had to play a number of matches without their internationals (John Anderson and Tyrone Kane). We had the same experience a few years ago, playing without Kyle (McCallan) and Gary Kidd and it cost us. So we are under no illusion, I am expecting a great contest."
Kane agrees but accepts that Merrion will start as underdogs.
"After last year I feel that we owe them one but they are the defending champions, so it will be tough again. I actually missed our first final, back in 2010, so I'm still waiting for my first winners' medal but am really looking forward to another final," he said.
"We will be looking to captain Dom Joyce (Ed's brother), John Anderson, who have been in great form all season, and myself as the key players."
Waringstown, without the injured Adam Dennison, have in-form players of their own.
Nelson added: "I've scored a few runs myself in recent weeks and it's nice to go into the final with a bit of confidence but our main man for the last year and a half has been Greg Thompson, who has just received a richly deserved recall to the Irish side."
It was Thompson who was top scorer in the final last year with 78 and he hasn't looked back. Waringstown have no intention of looking back in anger tomorrow and will hope history can repeat itself, after North County's heroics in 2008.