It might be down to the last four in the Ulster Bank NCU Challenge Cup, but Downpatrick captain Paul Tate is realistic about his team’s chances of lifting the famous trophy.
Not since CIYMS in 2006 has a team from outside the top flight reached the NCU’s showpiece game, and that stage CI had star names in their line-up like Derek Heasley and Johnny Hewitt.
Despite the experience of Tate himself, and the likes of Gavin Ringland and Dale Mullan, this Downpatrick team is wet behind the ears in comparison. Their opponents at Stormont on Saturday, Civil Service North, will be the shortest of short odds to reach the final for the third time in seven years.
Tate provoked some comment on social media with several mischievous tweets after he watched some of CSNI’s defeat by Lisburn last Sunday. Cunningly, he made reference to probably the upset of the season in this season’s Irish Cup when a CSNI side, admittedly missing Jones, were thrashed by North West Championship club St Johnston.
If Downpatrick are looking for encouragement, that result shows theirs is not a mission impossible.
“I made a couple of comments on Twitter on Sunday about what happened to them in that St Johnston game and it definitely gives us a bit of hope,” said Tate.
“If they have a slightly off day and we have a brilliant day then we have a chance. We’re going to try and get as many people from the club up to the game as possible, it’s been a good many years since we were last in the semi-final.”
If the rain stays away, and the latest forecast isn’t promising, then both teams will be under-strength. Tate is without five first-team regulars, but the consolation is that Jones will take to the field without fast bowler Mark Adair and MCC Young Cricketer Shane Getkate, the destroyer of Waringstown a week ago.
“I hope the weather is ok because we want to play a full cricket match,” said Tate. “A shortened match would give us a better chance but we would prefer a proper game. It’s a pity that it isn’t at home because we could have had a big crowd and there is that special tradition of cup ties at our ground. But Stormont is a nice ground too and it’s something our younger players, who maybe aren’t aware of the history of the Challenge Cup, should be really looking forward to.
“CSNI have been going well but it’s a boost for us that Getkate and Mark Adair won’t be there and that gives us a bit of a sniff. But they still have Jonesy and Coulter (Allen) can be slippery.”
If Donwpatrick are to be competitive they must surely bat well. Tate, Ringland, Aaron Ferris and professional Amit Patil must come to the party. Tate would love to experience the occasion of a cup final once again, with Downpatrick’s last showpiece coming in 2005, when they competed well before losing to a great North Down side.
“There wasn’t much in it after the first innings, we weren’t many runs behind, and North Down had a great team at that time,” he added. “It was a great experience and it would be fantastic get back into a final.”
The other semi-final has the potential to be a classic. Waringstown beat CIYMS at Belmont only last month but it is the Belmont team who are the form side, with the villagers having lost their last two matches.