Lee Nelson doesn’t even want to contemplate it, but if Waringstown don’t get their hands on the NCU Premier League trophy this weekend, it will be a crushing disappointment.
The joint reigning champions have already been runners-up in the Challenge Cup, and perhaps less significantly in the Ulster Cup, this summer, and a hat-trick of second places is surely too bleak a prospect to think about.
After losing just once in 12 Premier League matches, just one victory in two matches against Instonians, at Shaw’s Bridge on Saturday or at The Lawn on Sunday, will be enough for Nelson’s team.
Waringstown could yet lose both games and still share the trophy but Nelson desperately wants to win it outright because while they shared the title with Inst in both 2013 and 2009, they villagers haven’t won it outright since 2006.
Even that trophy success eight years ago wasn’t altogether satisfactory - North Down were deducted points for fielding Peter Connell as an ineligible player and the sense of Waringstown having waited much too long is palpable amongst a group of players who should have delivered more.
“We have put a real emphasis on the league this season because it’s been 2006 since we won it outright and that’s too long for this club,” Nelson said. “If you look at the Ulster Cup defeat, there was a bit of an element of it being a distraction from what we were trying to achieve. Now we go into our last two games knowing that one win will be good enough to win the league. I would have taken this at the start of the season.”
Waringstown will though be without Shaheen Khan, their professional, but in the four games since he returned to South Africa, they have won each time. Of particular significance was last week’s return of Phil Eaglestone, with the left-arm seamer instrumental in the thrilling win over an impressive Civil Service North.
“It was a massive boost having Stoop back, when he gets it right like he did last weekend, a left-armer bowling at pace and swinging it, there’s no-one better than him at taking early wickets. To get CSNI two wickets down early last week, and especially getting rid of Shane Getkate, was massive.”
Nelson says the conditions on Saturday at Shaw’s Bridge should not favour either team. While the pitch for the Ulster Cup tie between the clubs back in June was arguably one of the finest seen in the NCU this season, totals have been lower at the Belfast venue in recent weeks.
Neil Russell expects a spin-friendly surface but this will suit the attacks of both teams, Nelson agrees.
“The pitch for the Ulster Cup was one of the best we have played on all year,” he added. “It didn’t really do anything that day but if it spins this time it will play to our advantage and to theirs. Both bowling attacks rely on their spinners.”
Saturday’s game at Shaw’s Brdige has an 11am start.