Five talking points from last weekend's NCU action

Neil Gill bowling for Muckamore
Neil Gill bowling for Muckamore
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It was the busiest weekend yet in the NCU with Twenty20 Cup, Gallagher Challenge Cup and Robinson Services Premier League action over the space of three days.

CSNI, CIYMS, Muckamore and Instonians will contest the Challenge Cup semi-finals on July 20, while it'll be CIYMS vs Waringstown in the Twenty20 final at The Lawn.

Here are five talking points from the weekend that has been.

1. Muckamore win the weekend

Muckamore had been struggling in the Premier League after losing their opening five matches, but they can finally breathe a sigh of relief now after beating Carrickfergus by two wickets at Moylena on Sunday.

Captain Neil Gill would have been dreading another tight loss after defeats to Waringstown and Lisburn at the start of the season, and another one against Carrick would have dented their confidence massively and left a mountain to climb to get out of a relegation fight.

With Lisburn losing to North Down on Saturday and Instonians now winless from four matches, Muckamore have taken the first step towards what could be a great escape and will be fighting for every run and wicket in their remaining eight league matches.

Combine all of that with a 72-run Challenge Cup victory over Templepatrick on Saturday, weekend's don't get much better than that.

2. Who is going to beat this CIYMS team?

Speaking of good weekend's, CIYMS won three matches in three days in three different competitions to further display just how good they are.

Looking at their team, they literally have all bases covered and now that every single player is firing and contributing, it is hard to see who is going to beat them - especially in 50 over cricket.

Waringstown have been the best club side in Ireland over the past few years (and maybe ever), but they couldn't even get close on Sunday as they went down by seven wickets at Belmont in the Premier League, while Instonians who are incredible in white ball cricket were swept aside in the Twenty20 Cup.

The challenge for Nigel Jones' side is to convert that potential and firepower into silverware, and it isn't clear at this moment in time who is going to be able to stop them doing that.

3. What an addition Josh Manley has been for Instonians

All-rounder Manley has taken the NCU by storm since arriving earlier this month and proved to be the difference at The Lawn on Saturday, taking 4-39 as Instonians sealed a massive Challenge Cup victory over defending champions Waringstown.

It isn't just the fact he took four wickets, it's that he got four of Waringstown's brilliant top order as Adam Dennison, James McCollum, Lee Nelson and Greg Thompson were all dismissed by the South African in what will be considered a shock result considering Andrew White and Shane Getkate were missing.

As already mentioned, Instonians are winless in the Premier League, but their team is such a dangerous white ball side that they cannot be overlooked for winning the Challenge Cup due to how explosive and dangerous they are when everyone is fit and available.

In my opinion, they are far too good to go down with James Shannon back at the club, Murray Commins starting to show what he's all about and the brilliant Manley an exciting talent that will surely get Instonians to the required points tally.

4. Cregagh impressive in defeat

Cregagh were always going to be second favourites against such a good CSNI side in Saturday's Challenge Cup quarter-final, but they performed admirably and did themselves more than justice.

Alistair and I have spoke about how Aaron Johnston could still play Premier League cricket after a spell with CIYMS, and he is leading an exciting young side that posted 173-8 before going down by six wickets.

Jay Hunter hit 38 of those and looks to have been a great signing from North Down during the close season and Mark Johnston has bags of potential and ability, as shown by his patient 45 against a bowling attack containing quality and experience.

It's surprising to see they are struggling at the bottom of Section One having won just two of their six matches because their team is much better than that position suggests.

5. Waringstown will be back with a vengeance

The weekend would have hurt Waringstown's squad having gone out of the Challenge Cup and an emphatic Premier League loss to CIYMS, but they are too good not to have a massive reaction from that.

They haven't been at their best yet this season, scraping past Malahide and North Down in recent weeks, but that is a positive sign that they haven't been anywhere near their prime form and are still in a Twenty20 final and Irish Senior Cup quarter-final.

Their batting is the main concern right now with some of their key personnel not firing at the moment after such a stellar 2018 campaign, and it's something that will need to improve quickly.

Greg Thompson's side face CSNI at home in the Premier League on Saturday before taking on Instonians in the Irish Senior Cup the following weekend, which is a competition they will be focused solely on defending.