On the last occasion that two clubs from the Northern Cricket Union reached the semi-finals of the Irish Cup, it ended up an all-NCU final.
Civil Service North and Waringstown may not like it, but the odds on a repeat of 2011, when the villagers and Instonians made it past Brigade and Railway Union in the last four, are long.
As CSNI captain Andrew Cowden admits, his inconsistent team are “huge underdogs” as they travel south to take on the competition favourites Merrion in south Dublin.
Waringstown would have been favourites to beat Pembroke when the draw was made but the villagers’ recent struggles mean they may be travelling to Park Avenue down on confidence.
On paper, CSNI’s task is a huge one, especially as their hopes of including both Mark Adair and Gary Wilson have been dashed. Wilson’s unavailability is no surprise - it is several years since his last appearance club colours - but Adair’s absence against probably the longest batting line-up in Irish cricket is a savage blow.
The Warwickshire paceman took three wickets during a superb spell of new-ball bowling against Waringstown last Saturday and his absence leaves Allen Coulter shouldering much of the responsibility for early wickets. The batting isn’t as strong as it might have been either with left-handed opener Wayne Horwood on holiday in France.
“It is disappointing that we are missing Mark and Gary,” said Cowden. “They have county commitments and there’s nothing we can do about it. It makes our task more difficult.”
Cowden isn’t shy about playing the underdog card as he highlights the pressure on the strong cup favourites.
“Merrion were one of the pre-tournament favourites along with Clontarf, who are out now basically because of the innings from (Ruhan) Pretorius for Waringstown,” he said. “That’s something you need if you want to beat these teams. Merrion are the favourites of the four teams that are left, we are massive underdogs and that’s something I’ve no problem with.
“There will be a lot of pressure on them. With Clontarf and YM out they will be expecting to win the trophy, and they also have the easiest semi-final in their own backyard and that puts pressure on them. We know it’s going to be a massive task but it’s a one-off game, it’s a change of scenery for us and we have a habit of producing our best cricket in the cup competitions.”
Waringstown should welcome back Gary Kidd, the left-arm spinner. He had a pin removed from a broken finger on Thursday and will play against Ballymena on Saturday.
Captain Lee Nelson hopes his team will come out firing after the desperate disappointment of last Saturday’s league defeat by CSNI.
“Can we get over it? Only time will tell, the proof will be in the pudding,” he said. “We told the players where they went wrong and why they went wrong and it’s up the players themselves to put it right. Hopefully last Saturday proves to be a wake-up call for us.”
Pembroke, a young side, are likely to include Durham’s Barry McCarthy but Andrew Balbirnie is not expected to return from Middlesex.
“Theo Lawson, who I played with at under-1 9 level, is their youngest player bar the pro, so they’re a very young side,” added Nelson.
Phil Eaglestone should be fit despite suffering an injury playing for the Northern Knights this week.