Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
RBAI v Methodist College may be a familiar final down the years in Schools Cup rugby but it has never happened on the cricket field – until this year when the traditional rivals square up at Moylena on Friday (4pm).
The simplest reason is that Methody, on their 150th anniversary, are playing in only their second final – since the first, then known as the League final, in 1974. Indeed, they have played in only two Cup semi-finals, beaten on both occasions, in 2003 – when captained by Gary Wilson – and 2010 by Foyle and Londonderry College.
Hopes that they can win their maiden Cup final are as fanciful as Scotland beating England at cricket because coming from the other changing room will be RBAI, in their fourth final in the last five years and bidding to become the first Inst team to retain the cup since 2007, when James Shannon was top scorer in the final against a Belfast High side which included Paul Stirling.
This year’s line-ups may be lacking that prodigious schoolboy talent but four players are regulars in the Instonians Premier League side, including Methody’s James Hunter who played a key role in Saturday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final victory over Holywood.
With bat and ball he is likely to prove the holders’ most difficult opponent on Friday although slow left armer Harry Morrow took seven wickets on Saturday to take his season’s tally to 16.
RBAI have seven of last year’s winning side back again, including joint captains James Metcalfe and Ben Rose, but coach Darren O’Neill admits the absence of David Robinson leaves this year’s bowling attack significantly weaker.
They have still taken 30 wickets in their three cup games this season, for just 274 runs with Limavady’s Grammar’s 120 in the semi-final the highest total conceded.
That has ensured emphatic victories by nine wickets, 115 runs and 118 runs on their route to the final as Jonathan Waite scored 112 not out in the quarter-final against Coleraine Grammar and James Metcalfe top scored with 73 in the last round.
The one hope for Methody – apart from producing a herculean performance on the day – is that they are the only team to have beaten RBAI this season, by six runs in a 20-over McCullough Cup match but, at twice the distance on Friday, it is the holders who are once again big favourites to prove they are still the team to beat in schools cricket.
Teams: Methodist College: Louis Lowry (capt), Tom Millar, David Humphreys, James Hunter, Max Lyttle, Adam Reid, Rohan Dravid, Matthew Humphreys, Harry Morrow, Paddy Morrow, Jude Holohan, Andrew McMurray, Thomas McCreight
RBAI: James Metcalfe, Ben Rose (joint captains), Jonathan Waite, Oliver Metcalfe, Daniel King, Bradley McNamara, Hugo Ellerby, Matthew Fleetham, Niall Armstrong, Ewan Scott, Sam McLarnon, David Mitchell, Matthew Peak
Ulster Plate holders CIYMS II have been rewarded with a home draw after they eased into the quarter-finals of this year’s competition with an eight wickets win over Bonds Glen.
Fox Lodge II achieved the result of the day, beating Carrickfergus II by one wicket to leave Matty McCord’s 100 in vain and it was just as close at the Castle Grounds were Donemana II defended 131 to beat Cliftonville Academy II by five runs. They will next play Waringstown II who had just two wickets to spare when passing Brigade II’s 128 at Beechgrove.
Spare a thought for Chris McMorran who scored 99 for CSN II and also ended up on the losing side as Bready II won by three wickets.
Quarter-final draw: Bready II v North Down II, CIYMS II v Ardmore II, Fox Lodge II v Muckamore II, Waringstown II v Donemana II
Following last week’s Ulster Schools’ Trial, 12 boys have been selected to face MCC at Campbell College next Tuesday (11.30am).
Some established players have been excused to allow more players the chance of selection for the annual two-day inter-provincial game against Southern Schools, being held this year at Osborne Park on June 26-27.
That team will be selected after next week’s game.
Ulster Schools (v MCC): B Rose (RBAI, capt), V Chopra (Coleraine Grammar), M Foster (Regent House), M Hutchinson (Coleraine Grammar), R Logue (Holy Cross College), M McCloskey (Foyle College), G McFaul (North West Regional College), K Magee (Foyle College), J Metcalfe (wk), O Metcalfe (both RBAI), M Poskitt (Coleraine Grammar), J Waite (RBAI).