James Kennedy looks to lift Gallagher Challenge Cup with CSNI
The year 1998 marked the most successful season of James Kennedy's cricket career, when he was part of a Ballymena side that won the Premier League and finished runners-up in the Irish Senior Cup to Strabane.
There was always one final and trophy that eluded him - the Challenge Cup.
Now, 20 years down the line, he will get the chance to tick it off the list when he leads out CSNI against Waringstown at The Green, Comber on Friday.
Winning this competition was a major reason why Kennedy made the switch to the Stomont-based side, and he says it has been a long time coming.
“When you play for one club your whole life, especially when it’s not one of the so-called ‘big clubs’, it’s very difficult to get the opportunities to play in those finals,” he said.
“It’s why winning the Premier League and getting to an Irish Cup final in 1998 was just an incredible achievement back in the day.
“The Challenge Cup was always one that I was missing, and it was a huge part of the reason I wanted to move to CSNI to give myself the best chance of playing in it.
“It’s been a long time coming. Turning 40, and it’s my first crack!
“I find at CSNI there are boys that have played in three or four and other boys at other clubs who have played in five or six, and they just take it for granted.
“I don’t think they realise how special the competition is, and probably won’t do so because they have had so many opportunities to play in it.”
CSNI have a good recent record in the competition, winning it twice in the last four years, but the majority of this current squad will be gunning for their first winners medal.
“It would be great to win it three times in five years from a club perspective, but there are about 7/8 of us trying to win it who weren’t involved in those two competitions,” added Kennedy.
“It would be lovely for those boys to all get a crack at winning it.”
Marc Ellison and Andre Malan have been the standout performers for the Belfast club, with the former hitting 714 runs and the latter amassing 767, combining with his 37 wickets - which is more than any player in the NCU.
Kennedy says the duo are going to be massively important if CSNI want to leave victorious on Friday evening.
“Those two have been superb.
“They are two high quality players who have already shown this year that they are capable of getting on top of any bowling attack.
“Andre has also been bowling well, which has been superb. They are both going to be key in the final on Friday with bat and ball.”
The main thing for Kennedy is that he doesn’t want his squad leaving the field questioning whether they could have done more. He doesn’t want his team to leave anything on the field. He doesn’t want any what ifs.
“In the league you have another crack the week after and you can put things right, but when it comes to knockout competitions, it’s all or nothing.
“If you don’t play to your full potential on the day, you will always look back and think ‘what if?’.
“It would be nice to come away from Friday not with that question in our minds, but having done everything we possibly can.”
In Waringstown, they face arguably one of the best club teams to ever play in this country.
Kennedy believes his team are underdogs, but they are ready to spring a surprise on the reigning Irish Cup and Premier League champions.
“If you’re going to win a competition, you’re going to have to beat the best at some point.
“Waringstown are clearly favourites, but in sport if you don’t think you’re going to win then there’s no point in turning up.
“We will give it our absolute best shot.
“We know that we are underdogs, but every now and again there is a cup upset, and it would be lovely to make another one this Friday.”