Plenty of milestones as Academy lift NCU Junior Cup

Sponsor Tony Nicholl, from Goldblatt McGuigan Accountants, presents the Junior Cup  to Academy Cricket Club  captain Matthew Palmer   after defeating Lisburn II  in Goldblatt  McGuigan  NCU Junior Cup at Muckamore Cricket Club. 'Pictures: Brian Little/Presseye
Sponsor Tony Nicholl, from Goldblatt McGuigan Accountants, presents the Junior Cup to Academy Cricket Club captain Matthew Palmer after defeating Lisburn II in Goldblatt McGuigan NCU Junior Cup at Muckamore Cricket Club. 'Pictures: Brian Little/Presseye
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As the early evening sunshine drenched Moylena on Saturday a jubilant Academy cricket team made their way across the pitch as Goldblatt McGuigan Junior Cup winners. One picture which will endure long in my memory was the sight of Davy Greenlees embracing everyone and anyone who crossed his path.

Put in simple terms, the larger than life character from Academy owns this competition and has been an integral part of each of the club’s five successes in the last decade. Perhaps more poignant was the thought that this may be his swansong.

Sometimes fate has a way of ensuring things happen exactly as you would want them to. The curtain was brought down on the Lisburn innings as Mark Shields ran out Aaron McKeown, Shields a man with the remarkable record of having lost only one Junior Cup match.

Again a certain irony as McKeown’s dismissal ensured that his father Trevor remained the last player from Lisburn to lift the trophy. In the end the margin of victory was 49 runs, but what a spectacle we had watched.

Enough of the sentiment let’s view the game through the eyes of the respective captains, firstly to the winners, Matthew Palmer, how was his day: “My first reaction on the morning of the game was shock at the weather and relief that the game was on. I knew if it was called off that Davy Greenlees would not be available for the replay.

“Then when I lost the toss I thought brilliant, somebody else has to decide, to be honest I was a bit surprised they put us in to bat. The plan was to get through 10 overs which we did and survived a couple of lbw shouts.

“From there it just turned into a dream, which enabled me to change the order with myself dropping down.”

The dream Matthew refers to is the batting of the Kiwi pair Andre Halbert and Mitch Atkins, an opening partnership of 137 in 30 overs, what a platform. Both were superb, Atkins hitting 6 fours and 2 sixes, but if anything Halbert was even more clinical in dispatching the loose delivery.

In all honesty it was not that Lisburn bowled badly, they just came up against a class act. A big hundred looked on the way until on 99 Halbert’s partner drove the ball back, a reflex reaction from Calum Atkinson deflected the ball onto the stumps and he was gone. Halbert stoked 10 boundaries and cleared the ropes on four occasions.

If the batting was good Palmer could scarcely believe the start when Academy took the field: “I don’t think anyone could have imagined the first 10 overs, the bowlers were brilliant, Waqas Muhammad was bowling with pace at one end at the other Davy Greenlees. Basically Davy decides when he is going to bowl, watching as keeper was something else.

“There may only be six deliveries in the over but he seems to bowl seven different balls.”

In a flash Lisburn were 8 for 4 and seemingly in a daze, with three wickets for Greenlees and it did seem somewhat harsh that NCU officials were hurriedly bringing the trophy past the Lisburn bench.

The Wallace Park outfit dug in and Johnny Bell and Graeme Brown set about rebuilding, how did Palmer see it?

“Jonny Bell batted brilliantly, but I always felt we were in the driving seat. Chris Halliday bowled well and Mitch Atkins took three key wickets, the fielding backed them up and I thought we did a great job as a collective unit.”

By now Greenlees had retired to the outfield, just in time to pick up the three catches, using both hands much to his captain’s surprise.

For Palmer though the champagne moment was left to last, that Mark Shields run out: “He doesn’t have the strongest arm; I was surprised he even made the stumps!”

For Lisburn captain Graham Elliott the day began badly with another Junior Cup veteran and one of this season’s leading run makers Ricky Finlay dislocating his finger in the warm up.

“Not the best of starts, but we won the toss, decided to bowl, I have to say Andre and Mitch batted really well. I thought we did a good job of containing them from that platform with only 100 coming off the last 20 overs with wickets in hand.

“I thought we were still in the game at the break as we have chased down similar totals already this year; certainly was not prepared for what happened next. I think we played some poor shots at the top of the order.

“Jonny and Graeme Brown did a great job putting on over 100 for the fifth wicket, but they couldn’t really go for their shots as another wicket would have finished us at that stage.

“If I am honest I think that Academy looked sharper than us and bowled to their field. They had a plan stuck with it and executed it well.”

Lisburn were left to think of what might have been had someone been able to knuckle down early on, but take nothing away from their fighting spirit exemplified by Bell’s magnificent century, containing 10 fours.

On another day he would have been walking away with the man of the match award but that honour went to Andre Halbert.

An elated Matthew Palmer received the Junior Cup from Tony Nicholl representing sponsors Goldblatt McGuigan, as a former Academy man I think he was reasonably satisfied with that outcome.

Hats off to Muckamore for hosting the day superbly and to head groundsman Michael Kennedy and his team for having the ground in first class condition despite the weather.

If it proves to be Davy Greenlees’ last final, not many will bow out in such style, three wickets, three catches, topped off by a fly past from the Red Arrows - what an exit!