The stage is set for potentially the most dramatic final Saturday in the NCU’s top division for many years.
Every one of the four Premier League matches on Saturday could have a bearing on either the destination of the title or the relegation battle, or both.
Instonians, with 10 victories from 13 matches, are already guaranteed at least a share of the title, and if they beat Civil Service North at
Shaw’s Bridge they will take to the winners’ podium on their own for the first time since 1962.
But if Eugene Moleon’s men slump to a surprising defeat, as they did against the same opposition in incredible fashion only last Sunday at Stormont, it opens the door for both Waringstown and North Down to gatecrash the title-winning party.
The villagers must beat relegation-threatened Lurgan at The Lawn to put themselves in the mix while North Down must beat Lisburn today at Wallace Park and Civil Service North tomorrow at Stormont.
With net run-rate not used to decide the title, a three-way tie remains a possibility, if an unlikely one.
Confusingly, run-rate is used to decide relegation with Lurgan, outgoing champions CIYMS and Ballymena all level on 16 points. Lurgan, with the worst run-rate, are the unfortunate favourites to return to Section One. A win over Waringstown guarantees Stephen Johnston’s men survival because Ballymena and CI play each other at Eaton Park.
A defeat of any kid will surely see Lurgan go down with only a defeat of monumental proportions for one of the teams at Eaton Park and the narrowest of losses for Lurgan resulting in run-rate swinging back in the Pollock Park team’s favour.
At the top Moleon, in his 11th and possibly last season, says Instonians dearly want to go one step further than in 2009 when they shared the title with Waringstown following a last-day defeat at The Lawn.
“We have been in a position where we have shared the league before and as good as that was the lads want to go for higher honours and win it outright,” he said. “We are going to treat the game as a cup final and try to keep putting the same plans into place.”
One thing is certain. Whoever wins the toss at Shaw’s Bridge will bat first, given the epidemic collapses from chasing NCU sides this summer.
Moloen, who calls Richard McCarthy into his starting line-up, added: “We have been given another chance to win it outright and that’s something we want to grab with both hands.”