GREG Thompson, the Waringstown captain, admits that the Irish Cup is the pinnacle of club cricket and the holders are desperate to reach a fourth successive final.

It is 10 years since North County became the first and still only team to retain the all-Ireland 50-over trophy so when Waringstown start their defence on Sunday, at home to YMCA, Thompson is extra keen to win it for the third time in four years.

“Apart from the new All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup (Waringstown lost the inaugural final to Clontarf last year) it is the only chance to pit yourselves against the best of the rest, so it’s a cup as a club we have great affection for,” said Thompson.” And while we go out to win all games of cricket, yes, the Irish Cup would be top of our priority list.

After their, now, usual stuttering start to the season, Waringstown are already top of the Ulster Bank Premier League – they are at home to North Down tomorrow – in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup and one win away from the semi-final of the NCU Twenty20 Cup.

“Trophies aren’t given in the first month of the season so I am happy with our start,” the skipper added. “Our batting is looking strong with James Hall and Adam Dennison giving us a good base, James McCollum, I believe, is ready to take his game to the next level and will be even sharper as the season goes on.

"Lee Nelson got runs in the T20 win against Armagh on Tuesday and is nearly back to his best and then Shoaib Khan and myself followed by Marcus McClean and Kyle McCallan ensures we bat a long way. Our quality spin attack is as potent as ever and getting their rewards.”

With the Ireland squad currently playing a T20 Tri-Series in Holland, four of the Irish Cup teams will be one man down and YMCA are sure to miss Simi Singh, but they have a young talented side captained by Jack Tector and including his brother Harry, a team-mate of Waringstown’s Northern Knights players this season, plus former Coleraine and Armagh bowler Jarred Barnes and professional James Parkinson.

Pick of the other second round ties is Leinster League leaders Merrion’s game against CIYMS in Dublin, with both teams at full strength, but Carrickfergus can fancy their chances at home to a Leinster side without George Dockrell and North Down don’t have to face in-form Andrew Balbirnie when Pembroke visit Comber.

Instonians skipper Andrew White misses Instonians league game against Muckamore, as does James Shannon, but the chairman of selectors flies back from Holland to face Phoenix.