David Holmes (News Letter)
As we move towards the dying embers of another season once again Muckamore were thrown into the spotlight as they returned home from The Hills in Dublin as the inaugural winners of the RSA National Cup after beating Balbriggan by three wickets.
For one man in particular it was to be a very poignant day. After more than 20 years service on the first eleven Les Allen announced to his teammates in the changing room before the game, that this was to be his last game in senior cricket and without doubt he went out on a high.
Muckamore never seem to do boring games as the Ulster Shield final showed, winning that on fewer wickets lost and this was once again an absolute cracker, swinging one way and then the other with the result in doubt right to the end.
Muckamore skipper Neil Gill won the toss and with a damp outfield and a bit of moisture in the pitch; in a change to his normal practice decided to bowl. His decision was rewarded as in the seventh over as he took the wicket of Glen Russell with the first ball and then four balls later had a successful LBW appeal against Derek Rooney.
Adrian Harper joined Barry Archer and in the next 20 overs they took the score to 97 runs, with Harper being dropped twice along the way. Trevor Neill made the vital breakthrough and it was Gill who took a running catch at midwicket to dismiss Archer.
The key moment was the dismissal of Adrian Harper he top edged a Neill delivery high into the outfield where once again Gill triumphantly held the catch. Harper's 60 came off 88 balls and contained 8 fours. Balbriggan was in trouble at 118 for 6.
Nathan Rooney and Duane Harper then added 59 for the seventh wicket, before three quick wickets fell at the end to leave the final score 183-9.
The start of the Muckamore innings had more than a touch of déjà vu about it. First Craig Drummond was trapped lbw off a Duane Harper delivery; then Jason Mairs hit one back to the bowler and Jason Van Der Merwe hit one straight into the covers and it was 26 for 3.
A lot of digging was required to get out of this one, Indrajeet Kamtekar has proved time and time again that he is the right man for the shovel or in this case the bat, first he added 41 with Connor Breet and was then joined by Neil Gill.
The pair took the score to 126 before Gill was stumped by Archer for a valuable 28. Seven runs later it was 133 for 6 and the vital wicket of Kamtekar. In all he had faced 103 balls hitting six boundaries in his 68.
It was the 42nd over; the professional just out and 50 runs required off 8 overs, not unreasonable the Balbriggan supporters should think it was in the bag. Richard Keates strode to the middle with the captains words to just knock it about and play sensibly ringing in his ears.
I suppose it all depends on your definition, but when he was out after facing just 18 balls with the score on 177 and just 7 needed off 20 deliveries, I suspect the captain was in forgiving mood. Definitively a game changing innings 34 runs with 3 fours and 2 sixes.
Brian Dunlop was there to hit the winning boundary and remained unbeaten on 19 and the celebrations began in earnest.
I spoke to Neil Gill and asked for his reaction and perhaps it was a little surprising how he began:
"What a great day absolutely fabulous from beginning to end. It was a much bigger thing than I thought it would be with the sponsors there and all the guys from Cricket Ireland. Tribute to The Hills the place was in tremendous order and the teas, the hospitality, everything was superb.
"As I said at the end we did this for Les, he told the guys before the game although he had spoken to me about it a couple of weeks ago. He has been an asset to the club and will continue to be so as he moves down to the seconds to bring the younger players through.
"Whilst I was in the middle I felt like I had some element of control but when I was sitting there watching I thought I was going to have a heart attack. We needed 60 off 10 and then Keatsy came in and did what he does best and it came off.
"Again I think we have developed a mental toughness this year; games like this and the Ulster Shield final we would have lost in the past. We are trying to build something here and the aim for next year has to be to go up to the Premier League.
"I said at the start of the season that we wanted to be the first name on this trophy and we have achieved it, so yes it has been a successful season."
A campaign that began in Mullingar ended in North Dublin with victory over Balbriggan and I think that Cricket Ireland can also look back on this venture as a success. For guys like Richard Keates and Jordan Mairs it has been nothing short of phenomenal, in the last month they have picked up four cup winners medals, unlikely to be repeated at any club.
Indrajeet Kamtekar headed home on Monday with the Man of the Match award and a season that yielded over 1200 runs and 40 wickets, definitely a vital piece of the jigsaw that Gill and his men will be looking to complete next year.