Up for the Cup
Waringstown and Merrion will meet in the “Battle of Clontarf” in a repeat of the 2015 Irish Senior Cup final in what promises to be an occasion to saviour.
The sides are two of the most successful in the competition's 35-year history, with Waringstown's four wins only bettered by North County (five). Merrion tasted success in 2010 with victory over a Railway Union side that contained Trent Johnston and Niall O'Brien, and their 2016 appearance will be their fourth in five seasons.
The sides look very evenly matched, containing the usual sprinkling of youth and experience and packed with talented all-rounders. Holders Waringstown have no fewer than five internationals in their ranks, with Ireland's second most-capped player Kyle McCallan their pivotal bowler. Spin plays a major part in the The Lawn side's armoury – with Garry Kidd, James Hall, Greg Thompson and Lee Nelson providing a formidable quintet in conjunction with McCallan.
Left-armer Phil Eaglestone, South African overseas professional Cobus Pienaar and Irish youth international James Mitchell provide the seam options in a well balanced attack.
Their batting line-up is no less impressive with their depth emphasised by McCallan – a former Ireland opener – batting as low as number nine on occasions. Adam Dennison, scorer of a double hundred in the Hanley Energy inter-provincial series this month is a doubt with an ankle injury, but on the plus side his Ireland U19 team mate James McCollum has returned.
In Greg Thompson Waringstown have the in-form player in Northern Ireland, having passed 1000 runs for the season in the semi-final win over Instonians. Thompson – Ireland's youngest international aged just 16 in 2004, has reinvented himself from a leg-spinner into a dynamic middle order batsman capable of demolishing any attack as emphasised by his match-winning hundred in the recent NCU T20 final.
Merrion of course have their own run-machine in John Anderson. The 33 year-old enjoyed a purple patch which earned him a return to the international fold in recent series against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Anderson relishes the blue riband competition of Irish cricket, topping the all-time run aggregate list ahead of Conor Armstrong and Decker Curry.
Another player who features in the top ten is the vastly experienced opening batsman Dom Joyce, who won the last of his 69 caps almost a decade ago. The 35 year-old is a key figure for the Angelsea Road side with both and ball and is a player for the big occasion. Dave Langford-Smith – one of Ireland's World Cup heroes from 2007 – may be in the twilight of his playing career, but as shown with his four wicket haul in the semi-final win over YMCA, he remains a dangerous performer.
Patrick Tice and Tom Stanton – both of whom have been capped for Ireland at U19 level – give the side a youthful balance, and along with the highly rated Irish University representative Will von Behr will have important roles to play if Merrion hope to prise the Bob Kerr trophy away from the holders.
Clontarf will also be the venue for the National Cup final which is an all- Leinster affair between holders Rush and surprise package Laois. Both sides have brushed aside their indifferent league form taking refuge in the welcome distractions that cup competitions offer.
Rush – second from bottom of Division Two – have reserved their best form for the National Cup, no more so than in their thumping win at Woodvale when they posted 334 for 7. They have a well balanced side with Irish youth prodigy Stephen Doheny providing a formidable opening partnership with overseas player Lynal Jansen, and a middle order containing the in-form Sadat Gull, Shahid Iqbal and former Irish youth international Allan Eastwood.
The Fingal side and their loyal band of supporters have a proud history and rich pedigree and their recent Irish cup wins at youth level point to a club putting strong foundations and structures in place at all level.
Laois have defied the odds to make the showpiece decider. Sitting bottom of Division Three they produced a stunning semi-final win over NW side Newbuildings who had the formidable West Indian professional Peat Salmon in their ranks. Salmon's 114 looked to have propelled their side to victory but home skipper Rashid Meraj made a brilliant 91 to steer the Midlands side to an historic one-wicket win with just three balls remaining.
Laois may well be underdogs for the showpiece decider but they too have shown in recent years that they have players for the big occasion with cup wins, so Rush will underestimate them at their peril.
Both finals will take place at Clontarf, with the Irish Senior Cup scheduled for Saturday August 27 (11:30) and the National Cup the following day at the same time.