Ulster Schools travelled to The Hills CC at Milverton, near Skerries on Thursday, hoping to buck the trend of home wins in the recent years of the Schools Interprovincial series. Late cry offs occasioned by injuries to Gareth McKee and Paul McKenzie still left the visitors with what looked on paper a strong line up, though as we all know matches are never won on paper.
McKenzie's replacement, Neil Black, opened the bowling and in his 3rd over got the early break through removing Lyons for a somewhat streaky 13. Peter Blakeney had a torrid time , while his partner Bill Coglan prospered , and it came as no surprise when he was bowled by the fiery Boyd Rankin. Every time the innings seemed established Southern Schools lost a wicket, a Simon Wells catch off Stuart Kiddās bowling to remove opener Coghlan, leaving them 80 for 3. Busy left-hander John Pryor then kept his Captain Ian O'Herlihy company approaching the lunch break, his aggressive running between the wickets keeping the score moving at a very decent pace. It would have to be observed that Ulster's fielding was not always of the desired standard; on the other hand it was an excellent catch by Jonathan Neill off David Simpson that set the home side back on the brink of lunch.
After the break Simpson introduced Simon McMichael to the attack and he removed Connor Kelly thanks to a smart catch standing up by Gary Wilson who kept a top class wicket throughout. Stuart McDonnell and O'Herlihy advanced the total towards the 200 mark before a surprising collapse was precipitated by the fall of O'Herlihy's wicket Neil Black catching him off Gareth Kidd at short third man. There were 7 fours and 2 sixes in the stand-out innings of the day though it was a surprise that such an experienced player did not wait until closer to the end of the available overs to mount his charge. As it was the substantial total seemed 20 to 30 short of what it might have been, and with Ulsterās long batting line-up there was every reason to think that might have been crucial.
The reality was totally different. After the early loss of the prolific Wells Ulster worked their way to 50 for no further loss. There were a couple of near mishaps and quite a deal of playing and missing but David Tweed and Richard Sterling held firm and when overs 9 to 14 saw 34 added without loss the run chase seemed very much on target. From 50 for 1 it all went wrong; Tweed was well caught by O'Herlihy off Simon Morrisey the second of the wicket-keeper's 4 victims. It should be noted that the standard of glovework was uniformly high with only 1 bye recorded in the more than 300 runs scored in the match. Sterling followed for the inningsā top score, but worse still Neill went in the over before tea trying to hit the leg- spinner Stuart McDonnell over mid-off.
After the break captain Simpson and Simon McMichael added 30 runs carefully there being no indication of what was about to occur. From 85 for 4 Ulster vanished to 90 all out, McDonnell taking 5 wickets in 13 deliveries. It is probably better for all concerned not to record too many details of this collapse and it certainly left the Ulster coach in un-characteristically speechless condition. There will certainly be plenty to work on when Ulster embark for their English trip next Monday, with running between the wickets and fielding near the top of the list.
On a positive note the match arrangements at The Hills were, as ever before, top class and in this most miserable of summers the day was fine and often sunny. The band of visiting supporters can only wish that they had been able to enjoy a tighter contest at this very pleasant venue.