WHEN Waringstown contemplated beginning the defence of the Bob Kerr Irish Cup, they surely would have preferred an easier tie than the one which awaits at The Lawn today.

The cup holders' meeting with Strabane, one of the North West's early pace-setters appears to be the stand-out tie north of the border.

With home advantage, Waringstown will of course start favourites, but there are plenty of reasons for Strabane to travel with a fair degree of optimism.

Unlike some of their North West compatriots, Martin Deans' team are almost as comfortable playing outside their home union. They won at The Lawn by 15 runs in the Clubturf Ulster Cup in June 2010 and four years ago in the same competition they triumphed at the toughest NCU venue of them all, The Green, when North Down were beaten by eight wickets.

In Faisal Iqbal, Strabane boast arguably the overseas professional with the finest pedigree in the North West and NCU, even if the Pakistan batsman looks poised to leave these shores soon after his surprise recall for his country's Test tour of Sri Lanka next month.

Kyle McCallan, the Waringstown captain, is certainly expecting the toughest of examinations today. Only the great North County side of 2007 and 2008 have ever retained this trophy, but McCallan is adamant that his team will give it their most determined effort.

He said: "We were delighted to win the competition last year and we will do everything we can to keep our hands on it. Strabane will be tough opponents, they have made a very good start to the season, but then so have we. Certainly Faisal Iqbal seems to have settled into conditions here very well, but we are confident in our ability to win matches at home. We will certainly be taking them very seriously."

Mark Gillespie hit a match-winning 90 in that upset at The Lawn two years ago, and together with Iqbal, Niall McDonnell and of course McCallan's former international team-mate Peter Gillespie, Strabane have a top order that is potentially full of runs. However, they equip themselves against Waringstown's spinners will have a major influence on the result.

McCallan said: "They are a good side and we are going into the game very respectful of them. But we are looking at ourselves more than them. We are at home and history shows that is a big advantage in the Irish Cup, even if Strabane did beat us at The Lawn in the Ulster Cup a couple of years ago. We will be looking to put the record straight."

Waringstown expect to remain unchanged from last week's win over Lisburn. Josh Hall is a long-term injury casualty and Dave Cheater, the New Zealand-born fast bowler, must continue in the second eleven as an overseas player until July after only arriving in the country last month.

McCallan looks likely to continue with the bold policy of handing the new ball to Lee Nelson, an off-spinner, while holding the potentially explosive Kris Lyness back to the later overs.

Nelson will be partnered by Glen Addicott, with the South African making superb contributions in each of his first two matches in Waringstown colours.

"Glen has impressed us in different ways. In his first game against Ballymena he showed he is a really clean striker of the ball by hitting 30 not out off 13 balls, including three sixes, and bowling nine overs and taking two for 18," McCallan said.

"And then in very different circumstances against Lisburn at Wallace Park he really dug in and applied himself with the bat. He has settled in very well, is a great presence in the dressing room, and I think he's enjoying it too."

An intriguing question is will Waringstown's Irish Cup triumph in 2011, the first by an NCU club since 1995, and the first non-Dublin winner of the tropy in seven years, herald an end to the Leinster domination?

There has been talk of a decline in the Leinster game but McCallan simply believes the NCU and North West clubs are becoming much better equipped to compete with their southern counterparts.

He added: "I would hope that it's not a case of Leinster falling down, but more that we are catching them up. I know these things tend to go in cycles and looking at our union at the minute; ourselves, North Down, Instonians and CIYMS are all potential winners of the competition.

"I think the NCU, in an eight-team league, looks strong throughout, and the North West teams have been there and done it too. It makes the whole thing so much more exciting now. For a few years, we heard that the NCU clubs didn't take it too seriously, but that's certainly not the case now."