It’s “Clash of the Titans” at The Lawn on Sunday in the Gardiner Brothers Premier League. Games between Waringstown and North Down are always eagerly anticipated, but it’s been some time since one as significant as this.
North Down won the league in 2011; since then suffering a series of NCU disappointments with only the T20 Cup in 2013 returning to Comber. Perhaps last year was a nadir, arguably only remaining in the top section thanks to the weight of runs scored by Pieter Malan.
This season began with home defeat by Waringstown and the prophets of doom no doubt started rubbing their hands. Since then it has been all one way – up.
A look at NCU season statistics and you can see why. Top two, aggregate runs; Ally Shields and Ruhan Pretorius, both averaging over 60 with Danny Graham and Nathan Burns in the Top 20. Top wicket takers, joint second with 18 each, Ruhan Pretorius and Carl Robinson; also in the charts Peter Eakin and Peter Davison.
A far cry from the one-man team accusations of 2016; captain Martin Moreland is looking forward with relish:
“There is no pressure on North Down and we go in with a good chance. Our objective was to get enough wins to be safe and I think we have achieved that.
“We are a better side than the one that lost that first match, we have improved considerably. Looking at the games against Instonians we controlled about 80% of the Arthur Gallagher quarter-final and beat them quite comfortably last weekend.
“This year if we have got in trouble we have found a way out of it, look at Peter Eakin’s 2 in 2 balls against Muckamore to get rid of Ryan Haire and Ifti Hussain plus Stuart Nelson’s runs against Carrick.
“We are practising with a purpose, guys are given match scenarios to deal with. For me Ally Shields has turned potential into runs this year, perhaps it’s the added responsibility of T20 captaincy. We play them T20 on Saturday but I wouldn’t read too much into that, mind you Ally would probably tell you differently as we still have an outside chance of the semi-finals. If we win on Sunday then perhaps we start having different conversations about objectives, that would put leave Waringstown with 3 defeats but a loss doesn’t kill us.”
Saturday’s only premier league fixture is vital for Carrickfergus and CSNI as both need wins.