Winners one step away yet again
Ian Callender (Irish Independent)
The last two winners of the RSA Irish Senior Cup are each one match away from meeting in the final of this year's competition and making it an all-Leinster decider for the ninth time in 13 years. Both, though, have to negotiate difficult away assignments today.
While holders Clontarf make the journey across the city to Sydney Parade to play Pembroke, 2012 winners The Hills head north to meet North Down, the cup kings in the NCU but without an appearance in the all-Ireland final since 1995.
The pitch to be used at Comber will be the same as hosted yesterday's NCU Challenge Cup final between Waringstown and Civil Service North and the home team's fear is that it will be too dry and the toss will be crucial.
Last week, Waringstown piled up 309 runs, batting first, and beat the hosts by 73 runs. It seems set to be another 'bat first pitch' although Naseer Shoukat and Max Sorensen will, as usual, be the dangers with the new ball for The Hills and if they have to bowl first, they could gain the early initiative.
Indeed, the duel between the visitors opening attack and North Down openers, likely to be Ireland Under 19 batsman Alistair Shields and new Ireland international Nick Larkin, could be decisive.
Pembroke have never reached an Irish Cup final but with only five runs separating the teams in the league game at Castle Avenue two weeks ago, they will fancy their chances of ending that sequence with home advantage today.
Since their quarter-final win over Merrion, beaten finalists in the last two years, they have lost four of their five games, albeit three of them in the Twenty20 Cup, but Lorcan Tucker, who scored a half century against Merrion, was one of the few batting successes with the Ireland Under19s in Scotland this week and in Theo Lawson, Jono Cook and Barry McCarthy they have a middle order full of runs.
They may need every one, however, because Andrew Poynter bounced back from his two 'failures' with Ireland with an unbeaten 45 from 18 balls in the Twenty20 game against Phoenix in midweek and with Bill Coghlan scoring runs for fun in the Irish Cup this year, it could be a high-scoring thriller.
Dundrum are the only Leinster team in the RSA National Cup semi-finals which also take place today – they are at home to NCU side Carrickfergus who still have former Ireland international Ryan Eagleson in their ranks.
A busy holiday weekend of cricket, which finishes with a full league programme on Monday, continues tomorrow with the final round of games in the Newstalk Twenty20 inter-provincial series. If Leinster Lightning beats Northern Knights in the morning match at Pembroke, there will be a winner takes all decider against current leaders North West Warriors in the afternoon.