Ian Callender, 31 August 2001
After a match played in tremendous spirit and in front of a noisy, enthusiastic support, the hot favourites had 74 runs in hand and there was a unanimous feeling that this would not be the last major trophy which John Andrews would be lifting.
The decisive partnership, as Cliftonville feared, came early. Having reduced the Dubliners to 42 for two, Andre Botha and John Mooney put on 123 for the third wicket in 25 overs and that was the perfect launching pad. The true test of acceleration, especially when a side has wickets in hand, is if the score is doubled in the last 20 overs.
North County didn't quite make it but they certainly passed the test, moving from 139 to 272 for seven, the highest ever total in an Irish Cup final, sponsored for the last seven years - and the next three - by Royal Liver Assurance.
Very few teams chase that sort of total - at least at club level - and Cliftonville knew the only way they were going to get close was if they could keep the scoreboard ticking along and not lose wickets. Against an opening attack of in-form Paul Mooney and Andre Botha it was going to be very difficultl and when their fourth wicket fell for 87 in the 30th over, the result was inevitable. To their credit, Cliftonville more than doubled the score although, with the pressure off, it was still too little and much too late.
Kyle McCallan, a winner of three man of the matches in the competition already this season, was, yet again the main resistance but he did not hit a boundary for 47 balls and by the time he brought up his 50, off 53 balls, with 14 off an over from John Mooney, even the Cliftonville captain knew he would be on the losing side.
Andrew Patterson summed up the size of Cliftonville's task in only the ninth over. After making a purposful, attack-minded start with some excellent running, he was forced to play a maiden back to Paul Mooney. In the end he managed only 29 from 48 balls with just two boundaries, a feature which was to be a rare commodity - only 10 in the whole innings, despite a drying outfield.
Cliftonville were also up against some tremendous fielding. Paul Martin had shown off his talent in the deep with two stunning catches in the semi final and he was at it again yesterday to dismiss David Munn. It probably was the best again - but only just with Joe Murphy's spectacular overhead effort ending Conor McCully's innings and Michael Murphy equalling it with a blinder to send McCallan back to the pavilion. The old adage is that catches win matches and it was true again.
The North County batting, however, was pretty significant as well. As usual McCallan lost the toss but he received a bonus in the seventh over when big-hitting Sean O'Connor was run out in a terrible mix-up after thumping Colin Davison for two sixes in his second over. Davison trapped Conor Armstrong in front in the sixth and when Botha started nervously, mistiming three shots, fortunately for him into empty spaces, Cliftonville sensed a vital breakthrough. But there were just too many loose deliveries and soon the South African and, just as impressively, John Mooney were into their stride, this year's Ireland Under 19 captain with a six over long off and two glorious cover drives setting the standard for the next 20 overs.
The partnership was ended by the youngest player on the field, 15 year old Gareth McKee who was brought in for the injured Warren McCully and let no-one down. Alistair Speer took the catch to dismiss Botha and McKee struck again two overs later when he tempted John Mooney to play too early and McCallan held a low catch at extra cover, at the second attempt. But as Merrion found to their cost in the semi final, the North County batting is still dangerous as long as one of the top five remains and Paul Mooney helped himself to 24 off an over from Brian Anderson - he had conceded only 25 in his previous seven - and if there was any doubt as to who would be favourites at half-way it was ended by that.
North County's superiority was confirmed after lunch but, in his gracious speech at the presentation ceremony, winning captain John Andrews congratulated Cliftonville on their performance with such a young side. They will be back but with Leinster cricket in the ascendancy they may to wait a few years yet.