This Saturday Moylena hosts the final of the Goldblatt McGuigan Junior Cup final between Academy and Lisburn II’s.
If recent history is anything to go by then Academy are very much the favourites, not just looking at their form this season, but also their record in this competition.
From 2008 through to 2010 the club remained unbeaten, an almost unparalleled treble.So maybe it is something of a surprise that this year’s captain Matthew Palmer is playing in his first final: “Yeah it is all new to me, I’m 22 and this is my second year as captain having taken over from Mark Shields, but I have no illusions about what this competition means to the club, there are enough people around to remind me.
“It has been a great season for us, no doubt helped by the fact we have strengthened since last year. We are a young side with the notable exception of Davy Greenlees, it seems like he has been around about 70 years!
“We have two New Zealanders in Andre Halbert and Mitchell Atkins who are working at the school (Belfast Royal Academy) and they have given us another dimension. Both bat at the top of the order and Andre bowls off spin and Mitchell gives us another seam option.
“The good news is that they have been on a gap year programme and it looks like that is going to be extended for another year, so if we do gain promotion we will have them back again. There always has been a very strong link between the school and the club. Waqas Muhammad our opening bowler and Rory Thompson joined us from Cliftonville, so I think we have a real solid look.
“Joking about his age aside, Davy Greenlees is as good as ever, he may have dropped down the order but he still comes in and does what he does best, whacking it around the park. In terms of slip fielding he is one of the best I have ever seen and still insists on catching everything one-handed.
“It is almost like he owns this competition, he will probably open the bowling for us and he has a very simple mantra, he backs himself to deliver.
“I think that attitude has spread from him to the rest of the side, once it comes to the Junior Cup we are all switched on and alive. I was concerned in the semi-final, both games against holders North Down II’s were rained off when I believed we were in the ascendancy on the field.
“My concern was that we would have a bowl out disaster, but fortunately it didn’t pan out like that. The final is a bit of a step into the dark for us, to be honest Lisburn are a bit of an unknown package.”
Over at Lisburn I spoke in the first instance to club chairman Dean Simpson.
He said; “It is a good week for the Club with our U13s in the Banogue Cup final on Monday and our 2nds in the Junior Cup final on Saturday and we see this as some reward for a lot of work over the last few years. Overall we are happy with the progression at Lisburn.
“Our 1sts are well placed, joint 3rd, in a very competitive Premier League and but for a few “last ball” results that went against us, it could have been even better. The 2nds are top of their league and in the cup final.
“Our 3rds are 2nd and our 4ths are 3rd in their respective leagues. Our youth section is thriving with numbers well up on last year. We invested heavily in new pitches two years ago and are playing on them this year for the first time. They look like good cricket wickets and certainly there have been plenty of runs scored on them so far.
“So we are happy with the season thus far, but of course a bit of silverware is always welcome and the whole club will naturally be fully behind Graham Elliott and the boys on Saturday. The team has a good blend of young talented players and some “old hands” and it’s about time the Junior Cup was back at Wallace Park! Either way we hope it’s a great day.
So how does the skipper Graham Elliott view it?
“Well I played in the final two years ago when we lost and Trevor McKeown keeps reminding me that it is 1992 since we last won so no pressure. I missed the semi-final victory over Saintfield. I had changed my flight once to play in the first match but wasn’t able to for the rearranged game,” he said.
“I’m delighted we came through that one as again I felt we were well on top in the first game. It was good that we won it on the pitch and did not have to go through a bowl out.
“I think we do have a good blend of youth and experience, with old hands like Derek Suffern and Ricky Finlay right down to the youngest our off spinner Aaron McKeown.”
The side has that useful opening attack of a left armer and a right armer in Calum Ervine and Calum Atkinson respectively, with Atkinson also chipping in useful runs.
Finlay has been in fine form for the bat and I’m sure he will not mind me saying that he brings a couple of winners medals to the table from his days with NICC back in the mid 1990’s.
Looking at the batting you also have guys like Peter Ferguson and hockey international Jonny Bell, throw into the mix former skipper Glenn Halliday, medium pacer Richard Booth and it all looks good on paper. As we know cup finals are not won on paper, enough examples of that already this season.
I sense from talking to Graham that this team is growing in confidence, in the second round they had a narrow one wicket win over BISC where “Mr. Wides” top scored with 42, so it has been no easy passage.
Last words to Graham then: “It has been a good season, we are top of the league as well, results in tight games have gone our way and I think that instils a level of confidence. Whereas in the past we seem to have been missing players at vital times, this season everyone seems to be available.”
Tough one to call.