In the space of five matches over three days, an enthralling race to the NCU Premier League between Derriaghy and Muckamore will finally be decided this weekend.
Derriaghy, who were barely mentioned as promotion candidates in pre-season, stand on the brink of a return to the top flight for the first time since 2008.
If the bookies were interested in club cricket, back in April they would probably would have suspended betting on Muckamore winning the Section One title with plenty to spare.
But David Gill’s men go into the final weekend as outsiders with three fixtures to play, starting tonight at Templepatrick, knowing that even another 12 points may not be enough to secure promotion.
Derriaghy have their fate in their own hands, eight points ahead and matches to come on Saturday and Sunday against Templepatrick and Woodvale. Muckamore meanwhile host Academy tomorrow before a trip to relegation-haunted Cliftonville on Sunday.
The situation is complicated by the respective run-rates of the promotion contenders. Muckamore’s is comfortably superior and Derriaghy captain Craig Lewis knows that one slip-up could be enough to deny them the title and allow Muckamore sneak up on the blind side.
“Both teams play Templepatrick over the next two days, and they need to get points because they’re not safe yet, so that won’t be easy for either team,” said Lewis. “Muckamore will obviously go all out to win all three of their matches but we are backing ourselves to win both games and that will be that.
“With their run-rate better than ours we know we need to win both matches. But if they slip up even once we know that just one win will be enough. Funny things can happen.”
According to some in Section One, this is the promotion race only Muckamore wanted to win, the rest of the clubs apparently reluctant to contemplate trying to compete with the power of the Premier League big boys.
But Lewis is adamant that Derriaghy want their shot at the top flight.
“The boys desperately want to go up and everyone at the club feels the same,” he said. “When you get so close to something you don’t want to be losing it.”
In the Premier League there appears to be little at stake. North Down need a mathematical miracle to overtake leaders Waringstown as they travel to Shaw’s Bridge to face Instonians. Ballymena, who go to Civil Service North, are in a similarly impossible position as they try to overhaul Lisburn at the bottom.