Ian Callender
North County triumph in a superb Irish Cup semi-final

Ian Callender, 23 August 2001

NORTH County are the first team through to the Royal Liver Irish Cup Final but they had to dismiss Merrion's Brad Spanner before victory was guaranteed.

Brad SpannerThe Australian threatened to upstage Ireland's new adopted South African, Andre Botha, in a thrilling dual at Anglesea Road but although Spanner's 109 earned him the man of the match it was Botha and his two Ireland team-mates who will have a cup final to look forward to, the day after they return from the C & G Trophy game against Wiltshire next week. While Spanner was at the wicket Merrion, needing 263, were on course for the final but when he was caught at long-off, in the 46th over, going for his 14th boundary and fourth six, a target of 37 from the last four overs was too much for the last wicket pair. They fell 15 runs short.

The game, though, was a great credit to Dublin cricket and although critics may complain at the number of foreigners in the Merrion side it underlined why the balance of power in Irish cricket is changing. North County, with three internationals plus Botha, in thetop five expected a big start and they were not disappointed. In fact it was the 47th over before Merrion saw the back of the last of them, young John Mooney caught off a skyer after a run-a ball 42.

The second wicket partnership of 91 in 18 overs between Conor Armstrong and Botha put North County in control, with Botha powerfully cutting the bowling to ribbons and lethal on anything short of a length. In his innings of 88 he hit 13 fours and a six and faced just 67 balls.

His bowling, the most economical of the day - although Paul Mooney was not far behind - is based on line and length but no great pace and at least Ireland appear to have found someone who can bowl consistently one side of the wicket. He will ensure the Dubliners start favourites in next Friday's final against the winners of today's game between Cliftonville and Brigade at Greenisland (1.00 start).

Although the Merrion innings was dominated by Spanner after the loss of two wickets in three balls in the third over, the second the important one of Dom Joyce, the Australian had to play second fiddle to Angus Fleming in a fifth wicket stand of 44 in six overs. Fleming scored 40 of them from just 23 balls with five fours and a six in a stunning innings, another highlight in a superb day's cricket.