4 May 2002
A CURSORY glance at the result of North County's 147 runs victory over Glendermott in the Royal Liver Irish Cup would indicate an awesome opening defence by the holders. But, in a remarkable game, only two batsmen reached double figures - one of those was dropped twice before he had reached seven ? not one of the last six in the North County innings got off the mark as they lost their last seven wickets for 16 runs and Glendermott then slumped to the second lowest total in 21 years of the Irish Cup, under its various guises.
Yes, it was a seam-friendly pitch but 31 all out was just embarrassing for a side which had brought such a large, vocal crowd to Ballrothry. The supporters even had their own barbecue to feed themselves at a ground which still relies on portable toilets and water from a tap near the gate. Make no mistake, however, this building site is on its way to having the best facilities at any cricket ground in Ireland - the National Indoor School, bigger than the Lord's equivalent, will be open for next winter, and the three-storey pavilion will have a gymnasium on the top floor - and the club now has a team which has the ability to be at the top for years to come. Their Irish Cup success last year is but a launching pad.
Sean O'Connor and Dara Armstrong were the only batsmen who prospered on Saturday, the former's 74 off just 84 balls with eight fours and two sixes, a one-man contender for man of the match award decided by County's injured Irish international André Botha who was not even missed in this one-sided clash.
Armstrong, dropped on two, a difficult chance to mid-wicket, and on six, a straightforward chance to stand-in wicket-keeper Gareth Watson, went on to make 69 before he was Derek Heasley's second wicket, in the 44th over. The Irish international all rounder finished off the innings in the same over.
It was the other new face at Glendermott this season, Gary Neely, who impressed watching National Coach Adrian Birrell in an opening spell of two for 19 from eight overs. He may not have deserved the wicket of John Mooney, given out leg before via the inside edge, but he certainly earned it and a succession of yorkers accounted for the lower order as Neely finished with a five-for without the help of a fielder.
Young Craig Lynch was, at halfway, the bowler who seemed to have made the vital breakthrough. He bowled new County skipper Paul Mooney to start the holders' dramatic collapse and at tea in the Ballrothry Inn, Glendermott's target was to bat the 50 overs - and they would get the runs. Nice plan, terrible execution. Mooney struck twice in his first five overs, Conor Armstrong followed up with a third and at 22 for three from 12 overs that was as good as it got for the Londonderry side. Next ball, Heasley found himself stranded in mid-pitch in the first of two suicidal run-outs in successive overs, O'Connor took the first catch of the match, at third man to dismiss Stephen Montgomery and when Neely was bowled by Joe Murphy's second ball, all resistance had gone. Andy Stephenson was top score with six, at number eight in an innings which included only one duck.
Glendermott may have a good bowling attack for their return to the top section of the league, with Shabbir Ahmed their prize possession, but the batting will struggle until the return of suspended skipper Gordon Montgomery and keeper Maurice Ferguson give it even a hint of depth. Their only consolation yesterday was that they struggled past Coleraine's Irish Cup low of 29, against Eglinton in 1991.
North County may put down their batting collapse to a one-off aberration but it will be back to the nets to try and keep out straight balls, in the knowledge that their bowlers will be a match for any oppostion in the Irish Cup. Next up is Strabane, away. Light the barbecue early.