Winning league titles is first of all about consistency and secondly it is about holding your nerve as the finishing line gets closer.
Instonians face a real test of character going into their final three matches after Sunday’s crushing home defeat by Waringstown put the NCU Premier League race right back in the melting pot.
Eugene Moleon’s team went into the game with effectively a two-match cushion over North Down, their only realistic challengers.
But a 151-run defeat amounted to a significant setback, particularly with North Down due to visit Shaw’s Bridge this coming Saturday.
It wasn’t so much the defeat itself that will concern Moleon, but more the manner of the loss which was even more comprehensive than the Challenge Cup final defeat by Waringstown just a few weeks ago.
Chasing a testing total of 249 for five, Inst appeared to be making a real fist of things as Carleon Brome and James Shannon added 43 for the third wicket to take them to 68 for two.
But in a season which will probably be remembered more than anything else for an epidemic of batting collapses, Inst imploded like many before them.
The slide started when Brome, a century-maker the day before, missed a full delivery and was lbw to Gary Kidd for a top score of 29, the first of five wickets for the left-arm spinner as he repeated his Challenge Cup final heroics.
Andrew White, batting a place too low at five, tried to force the field back by hitting Greg Thompson over the top but he could only find the hands of mid-on. Nikolai Smith got a leading edge and was well caught by Phil Eaglestone diving forward at mid-off and the game was up as Shannon perished in almost exactly the same manner as White.
It was all done and dusted by the first ball of the 31st over, Inst all out for 98, having lost their last eight wickets for just 30 runs in the space of 13 overs.
In the cold light of day Moleon may regret inserting Waringstown at the toss. They were chasing the game after Adam Dennison (38) and James Hall compiled a highly impressive 105-run opening stand.
Dennison showed incredible composure for a 16-year-old while this was Hall’s finest innings of the season. He struck three imperious sixes, two straight back over Moleon’s head, and his only mistake led to his demise as he attempted a suicidal second run when he was 13 runs short of a deserved hundred.
He had faced just 96 balls and struck nine fours and those three maximums.
As Waringstown slowed to 148 for four, Inst had a glimmer but Greg Thompson and Pienaar slammed the door shut with a 101-run stand for the fifth wicket in just 84 balls.
Pienaar (39) was the junior partner as Thompson plundered an unbeaten 55 from 44 balls, hitting five fours and a six. Crucially the last four overs leaked 42 runs as a likely total of around 220 became a desperately imposing 249
Waringstown themselves will have mixed emotions. On their day they look the best team in the division but only a bizarre sequence of results would put them back in the title mix.
For the neutrals next weekend promises much but Inst’s destiny remains in their own hands. If they beat North Down and Civil Service North they will be crowned champions.
Ulster Plate final: North Down IIs 245-7 (D Graham 94, G Anderson 50, M Knaggs 44, S Wilson 2-45, A Harrison 2-43). Waringstown 226 (A Waite 39 no, J Mitchell 33, J Matthews 31, A Wright 25, A Kennedy 25, R Waite 22, B Adams 2-59, T Carson 2-35, S Irvine 2-41). North Down II won by 19 runs.