Another massive weekend coming up for NCU clubs as we reach the semi-final stage of the RSA Irish National Cup. The competition is now in its third season, with Muckamore the inaugural winners and on Saturday there is a chance if results go the right way of an all NCU showdown in the final on 24 August.
It will not be straightforward, in the first instance both sides are on the road, Carrickfergus making the trip to Dundrum (the Leinster version that is) and Woodvale heading to the North West to take on Killyclooney.
It’s fair to say that both side warmed up last weekend in impressive if somewhat different manners. Batting first Carrickfergus posted a massive 361-8 against Derriaghy with centuries for both Jamie Holmes and Indrajeet Kamtekar.
Woodvale were obviously in a hurry to get off the pitch bowling Bangor out at Ballygomartin Road for 47 with Paul Robinson taking 7-27. Mind you, it looked interesting when they slumped to 4 for 3 but there were no further alarms as captain Michael Irwin explains.
“In all honesty there was nothing wrong with the wicket, it was quick and bouncy but the ball was doing a lot in the air. Paul Robinson simply bowled in the right areas, very straight, wicket to wicket and got his reward.”
I suggested to Michael that it had been an intriguing season and not the best of starts as in their first game in almost a mirror image of Saturday, Woodvale had been dismissed for 46 and effectively been steamrollered by Downpatrick.
“Yeah we lost our first, but then bounced back by winning the next four in the league,” he said. “First game was always going to be difficult for us as we have a lot of guys who play football and the season hadn’t ended, so not unexpected.
“Then we lost our next four against Templepatrick, Holywood, Lurgan and Cliftonville. Arguably that probably would have extended to five as the weather saved us against Carrickfergus.
“We then put in a decent performance in the rearrangement of that game to win by one wicket, which hopefully was a turning point.”
So what about the Irish Senior Cup?
“We have only had to beat Laois in the quarter-final to get here. For us this is an extremely prestigious competition but perhaps the format needs to be looked at.
“In the first round Burndennett conceded, in the second the same with County Clare. The fact that these games were on a Sunday I believe was a contributory factor. As an example, I know we would have travelled to Clare if it had been away but I know it would have been an under-strength team.
“We played a league game on the Saturday and then would have been looking at a five hour trip down on the Sunday and the same back again in the evening, with guys potentially up for work at 7am the next morning.
“If this is to become the premier Irish competition for second tier clubs then I think we need to look at all games being on a Saturday with local league games being put back to the Sunday. An alternative is perhaps to regionalise up to the quarterfinal stage.”
I talked to him about the current Woodvale side and their aspirations.
He continued: “I hear, as I am sure you do as well, some interesting conversations around the grounds about Section One sides not wanting to be promoted to the Premier League, given the experiences of Muckamore this season, as they were head and shoulders above the rest of us last year.
“At Woodvale we would love to go up. This club has a history and tradition going back 127 years, guys here still remember the glory days of Warke, Wills, Warnock and Rutherford, but we have some good young players coming through.
“The problem is we kind of have a missing generation, I’m 23, my brother Mark is 21, as is Thomas Hill; Jamie Gibson and William Fraser are both 19 and Sam Fleming is 25, but then you skip through to 32 and we have no-one in that seven years in the middle.”
So what of the opposition?
“To be honest I don’t know an awful lot about them, but we are really looking forward to the game. Our seconds are through to the final of the Intermediate Cup and it would be great to join them.
“What I do know is I don’t want a bowl out - that is not the way to decide a cup semi-final. I believe we are a decent well balanced unit. At the top of the order Gareth Dempster and Sam Fleming only know one way to play it and hopefully that is an advantage up in the North West.
“Then you have the like of myself, Mark, Paul Robinson and stalwarts like Timmy Browne. Ricky McBride has been magnificent with the new ball all season alongside another veteran Marty McKeown.
“After Paul’s performance with the new ball last weekend I think it will be difficult to get the new ball off him, on top of this we have Johnny Burnside as an off spinning option. Yes undoubtedly we are missing our professional Sujit Kalbhor; he has had to return home with a broken finger.
“The rest of us just have to stand up and be counted and there are no rock stars in this team.
“On a personal level, I would say that I enjoy playing cricket but I love playing for Woodvale. I have been brought up here and played here since as long as I can remember. It is a pleasure and an honour to captain a side with such a heritage.”
Forthright and thought provoking stuff. Throughout the conversation, the passion, drive and commitment shone through - if that’s not playing for the badge, what is?