North Down on cusp of greatness
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
It is perhaps the ultimate irony that in a season when they have struggled to recapture their halcyon days in the NCU Premier League and Challenge Cup, North Down stand on the cusp of greatness in the Irish Cup.
The Comber side are just one victory away from a first appearance in Ireland's premier cup final since they last won the trophy in 1995. Standing in their way on Saturday are The Hills, the 2012 winners who like North Down haven't been enjoying a vintage season domestically.
North Down haven't been without their problems heading into the game. They've lost three matches in a row, and Andrew Sutherland, Peter Eakin, Danny Graham and wicketkeeper Peter Shields have all been carrying injuries.
But despite their travails the Irish Cup has brought out the best in North Down this season. Not many would have bet on them reaching the last four after Coleraine set them over 300 in the quarter-finals. But they cruised home thanks to a wonderful batting display.
Jonathan Terrett, the opening batsman, says the mood is one of real anticipation in the camp.
"It's a massive game for us, especially considering the up and down season we've had the league, which has been mostly down recently," he said. "Saturday is our season now. It's massive in the context that despite all the trophies the club has won in recent years, this has only been the second Irish Cup semi-final in all that time. It's a massive game and a massive chance given that we are at home."
Terrett is expecting a stern examination from the visitors. Max Sorensen, the Ireland bowler, is their talisman but it was the evergreen Naseer Shoukat who destroyed Waringstown in the semi-final at The Lawn two years ago.
"I've faced Max a few times and he's a very dangerous bowler, especially with the new ball," said Terrett. "With the bat he's been getting a lot of runs, even at number 11 for the Lightning. Shoukat has turned 50 but he is a wily old performer and Nicolaas Pretorious is very dangerous with the bat. They won the competition two years ago and obviously there's never an easy game in the semi-finals. Like us, The Hills probably haven't put it together as much in the league as in previous years.It's going to come down to whichever team puts it together on the day."
Pembroke face holders and favourites Clontarf in the other semi-final.
There are just two NCU Premier League matches on Saturday. Waringstown have opted against playing their match against Lisburn at The Lawn which has been put back to August 17.
Muckamore, desperately searching for a first victory of the season, have it tough against in-form Instonians at Moylena (11am start) while Ballymena host a CIYMS team who may still be reeling from a dreadful last weekend when they lost to Inst and went out of the Ulster Cup in a bowl-out at Bready.