James Shannon is prepared to play through the pain barrier as the Ulster Bank NCU Premier League race effectively reaches its climax this weekend.
The Instonians talisman was on crutches yesterday after being struck on the knee fielding at silly point for the Northern Knights at Eglinton.
Shannon didn’t bat in the Knights’ second innings and had an x-ray yesterday. While it showed no broken bones, the Ireland international was still in severe pain and was advised not to play in any of Inst’s three crunch matches over the next three days.
However, in a phone call to his club captain Neil Russell, Shannon pledged to take pain-killing injections that would allow him to take the field against North Down at Shaw’s Bridge tonight. If he gets through the Twenty20 clash unscathed, Shannon will then be available for the double-header against Waringstown on Saturday and Sunday.
The equation is simple for Instonians. They firstly must beat North Down to keep alive their hopes of winning the title outright with an Inst defeat guaranteeing Waringstown at least a share of the title. Assuming Instonians get through the North Down test, they would face Waringstown knowing that two victories would draw them level with the villagers with Inst then being left with the task of beating Lisburn to win the title outright.
Waringstown meanwhile must win one of the two matches against their only title rivals to ensure the trophy goes to The Lawn.
Russell has also revealed that Inst will also include Eugene Moleon tonight with the veteran seamer replacing Andrew Forbes, who plays instead for the under-17s in the Colts Cup final. He believes Shannon should be fit enough to bat and field at slip.
“I’ve spoken to James and he’s going to play in all three games,” said Russell. “He is going to have an injection which will hopefully enable him to get through it. He is struggling but it has eased overnight. He has told me nothing will stop him playing in these games and I’m glad to hear it.”
On paper it looks a massive ask for Inst to win three such demanding matches over the course of a weekend but after a run of eight consecutive league victories, confidence is not in short supply.
“It’s do or die from our perspective, there’s no doubt about that,” Russell said. “But all we have talked about over the last month is the next game and the first one we have is against North Down. When you go into a Twenty20 game it levels up two teams, all it takes is a performance from one player and you can win or lose a game. We will only start thinking about Waringstown once Friday night is gone.”
Inst are in the opposite position to a year ago when they lead the title race before three defeats in four matches enabled Waringstown to share the title. This time it’s the villagers who have the pressure of leading the race.
“They are the team on top and when you’re up there you are there to be shot down,” Russell added. “Waringstown are all things considered the strongest squad in the Premier League, they’ve lost in the Challenge Cup and Ulster Cup finals and for them not to win a trophy this season with that squad would be a big disappointment I’m sure.”
Tonight’s game at Shaw’s Bridge starts at 5pm.