Ian Callender, 23 June 2001
Fittingly, more than half of the 14 players who fly to Toronto tomorrow, via London, are involved in today's Royal Liver Irish Cup quarter finals, the one competition on which all Ireland's leading clubs compete on an equal basis and it was hardly coincidence that, in the last round, five of the eight man of the match awards went to Ireland internationals and another should not have missed out.
Four of the travelling party will be heading south from Wallace Park where Lisburn host Cliftonville in the all-NCU quarter final. Cliftonville's hopes of getting Gerard Brophy qualified to play today - they didn't realise he was eligible at the start of the season - floundered in the committee room this week but unless Derek Heasley "goes mad", then his Ireland team-mates, captain Kyle McCallan, Andrew and Mark Patterson, could prove too much for a Lisburn side which has much to make up for after their Senior Cup debacle at Ormeau last week.
Fielding one of their strongest sides of the season, they were dismissed for just 123, with only Trevor McKeown and Heasley getting past 20, and the bowlers could keep North out in the middle for only 27 overs when they completed an eight wickets victory. In contrast, Andrew Patterson and Davy Menaul enjoyed some batting practice against Armagh and while Lisburn would hope to offer a stronger attack than the Section Two side, it was still valuable time in the middle for Menaul, who had missed out the previous weekend when Brophy and Grant Elliott had mauled Instonians.
Cliftonville will be out to prove they can do without their South Africans today because they will create their own history with a win. Although this is their fourth quarter final, in the last six years, in the competition, they have yet to reach the last four. Wary of the unique considerations of Wallace Park and its small boundaries, they have brought back Stephen McChesney for Davy Munn in the slow bowling department.
McChesney has been bowling well for the Seconds and last week, in the Junior Cup, had figures of three for three from 10 overs, and, a "confidence bowler", Cliftonville are hoping that he will show similar control under more testing conditions today. Lisburn's record in the Irish Cup is little better than Cliftonville's - this is only their third quarter final - and in their only previous tie against NCU opposition at this stage they lost to Downpatrick, in 1991.
That was the last year when North West did not provide at least one of the finalists but their 10-year domination of the competition - they have won the last five - is under threat today, from Downpatrick. Brigade are the area'a sole representatives today but three results in the last month underline the size of Downpatrick's task at Beechgrove. Last Sunday, David Cooke's side won the first trophy of the season, the ClubTurf Ulster Cup with a crushing victory over Donemana, and the last two NCU clubs to visit Brigade both returned home rather quicker than they would have liked and out of the cup.
Cliftonville and North Down, with much bigger reputations than Downpatrick in recent years, mustered less than 200 runs between them in the two Ulster Cup ties and although there will be no professionals in action today, it will still be the result of the day if Paul Linehan's side can end North West intestest before the semi finals. They have defied the odds in the previous rounds of the Irish Cup, defending just 137 against Leinster and then dismissing YMCA for 111 with Paul Tate taking nine of the wickets in the two games. If he gets among the Brigade batsmen today then, Downpatrick believe, anything can happen. The teams met two years ago at today's venue, when Brigade had only 13 runs to spare, David Cooke and Darren McCann exchanging 70s. The Beechgrove side, however, will be hoping that the rematch today will be a lucky omen. Three games later in the competition, Brigade had won the Irish Cup for the second time.
The international overlooked for a man of the match award in the last round was Paul Mooney, whose individual performance for North County in their victory over Strabane seemed to impress everyone except the match ajudicator, but he has a chance to make an irrestistible claim today when his side host Malahide, in one of two games which will guarantee Leinster provide half of the semi-finalists.
Improving North County, who rattled up 285 in the last round with Mooney leaving his Ireland batting form behind and hitting a whirlwind 69, to go with two cheap wickets, are in unknown territory in the Irish Cup. They have been dismissed in the third round for the last two years but their all round strength makes them favourites today against a Malahide side who after successive semi final appearances in 1993 and 1994 have been first round losers ever since.
The other game in Dublin today is at Anglesea Road where Merrion, including both Ed and Dominick Joyce host The Hills, for whom Ireland team-mate Matt Dwyer was man of the match in their "tied" game with Waringstown in round three.
This is Merrion's third quarter final in a row and, with their visitors today still hit by injury, Dominick Joyce will expect to have another semi final to look forward to on his return from Canada. By then, though, Ed will be back at Middlesex so it can only get harder for the team-mates he leaves behind.
For now though, all thoughts are on the Irish Cup but, from tomorrow, club cricket will take second place for four weeks for those in Canada and, maybe, even for some of those left behind.