Ian Callender, 9 June 2001
The North West have produced at least one finalist in every Irish Cup decider since 1992 but by tonight, weather permitting, they could have only one team in the last eight. Brigade are favourites to beat Fox Lodge at Beechgrove but Strabane, the only other survivors from the area, face possibly the most difficult game of them all, away to North County. The strong Dublin side include in-form Irish international squad members Paul Mooney (left) and Conor Armstrong as well as Andre Botha, who has qualified under the residential rule, and will probably open the bowling with Mooney and bat in the top three. Strabane, though, have history on their side and will need all their experience if they are to stay in the cup they won just three years ago. They will be making a familiar journey because in the last round they won at Rush, another north Dublin side but this will be much tougher and a repeat of their semi final performance in 1998, when they knocked out Dublin YMCA, will be needed.
The best game of the day should be staged a few miles away at Milverton when The Hills host Waringstown. When the draw was made it was to be the villagers' toughest game of the season but then came Bangor and it will be fascinating to see how the unbeaten NCU leaders react to their Deloitte & Touche Cup exit. The confidence of the batsmen - they scored 245, after all, at Upritchard Park - should not be affected, with Garfield Harrison expected to be the main man again, but it is how the bowlers, who conceded the runs inside 48 overs, come back which will decide Waringstown's destiny today. Again they are without their ineligible professional, Pulashti Gunaratna, but they will be boosted by the possible absence in The Hills line-up of Luke Clinton and the definite loss of his brother Mark with a back injury. Slow left arm international Matt Dwyer, however, is a genuine all-rounder at club level and will, as usual, be opening the batting.
Two other NCU clubs meet Leinster opposition today with Lisburn having much the easier task, at home to Railway Union who have reached the quarter finals only once since the competition started in 1982. This year's first round victory was against North West Senior Two side Ardmore - making up the numbers for North West since they reduced their top league to eight teams - and Railway's first victory in their best run in 1995 was against Munster minnows Cork County. That year they were beaten by North Down, the eventual winners, so Lisburn will be hoping that victory today will be a good omen.
After beating Instonians in the Deloitte & Touche Cup last week, Lisburn promise to be even stronger today with the return of both Gary Hanna and international all-rounder Derek Heasley who is fit to bowl once again, after pulling out of Ireland's English tour last week. Downpatrick face a difficult trip to YMCA, the team who knocked out holders Donemana in their own back yard in the last round. Angus Dunlop, the former Ireland captain, scored a century at The Holm but John Hoey's 79 proved this is not a one-man batting line-up and if Alan Lewis, Ireland's most capped international, also plays then Paul Linehan's side will need a herculean effort to reach the quarter finals for the first time in six years.
Leinster's dominance of the second round, together with the third round draw, has ensured they will be rewarded with at least two quarter finalists from today's games at Castle Avenue and Phoenix Park. Clontarf would have been most people's favourites to progress against Malahide but the teams met last week in their domestic cup competition and Malahide chased 260 for their second victory of the season at Castle Avenue, having also won the league game there. Form from those games, however, is unreliable as the top two batsmen on each side are not playing today so Clontarf will be hoping that their victory over Limavady in the second round will prove a better guide.
In the other all-Leinster clash, Merrion, with Ed Joyce free to play again after completing his exams at Trinity, will be hot favourites to beat Phoenix and put them through to the quarter finals for the third successive year.