Northern Knights head coach Simon Johnston will be hoping his side can carry the momentum gained in last weekend’s Inter-Provincial Twenty20 Festival into today’s clash with Leinster Lightning in Pembroke.
The Knights picked up three consecutive victories in the shortest format after beating the North West Warriors, Munster Reds and Lightning in a thriller on Monday evening.
It puts them in pole position to collect their first Inter-Provincial trophy since 2013, but their form didn’t come as any surprise to Johnston.
“We were quietly confident going into the weekend because of the balance of our team,” he said.
“I think we are really suited to T20 cricket and nothing about the way the guys played surprised us.
“Apart from a little four over block, they just executed their skills extremely well. It was very pleasing.”
Waringstown captain Greg Thompson was star of the show against Lightning, smashing 65* from 31 balls after finishing 37* the previous day.
He has been rewarded with a first recall to the Ireland national team since 2017 for a three-match Twenty20 series against Zimbabwe next month, and Johnston says it’s ‘no coincidence’ that the 31-year-old has been rewarded.
“We had four caps last year and you can include James Shannon coming back after six years away and now Greg coming back in - I just hope it shows we are doing the right thing,” he added.
“I don’t want it taking away from the efforts and work all the guys are putting in.
“Behind the scenes, the guys are training four or five times a week.
“Greg isn’t contracted, but he is training three or four times a week on his own when he isn’t with us, and it’s no coincidence he is now getting the rewards.”
Shane Getkate is another that will don the famous Irish green at Stormont and Bready over the next couple of weeks after starring on the opening two days of the festival.
The Instonians all-rounder collected astonishing figures of 5-8 to help reduce the Warriors to 78 all out before scoring 49 and taking another four wickets 24 hours later against Munster.
He was tasked with finishing off the bowling innings against free-scoring Leinster and took the crucial wicket of Tyrone Kane, who had struck three sixes to get the home crowd dreaming of a sensational run chase.
“To come back at the end - and I know he got hit a bit - but to execute those last three balls just shows how far he has come as a cricketer,” Johnston said.
“Every time he is training and every time I watch him in a match, he just looks like an international cricketer.
“His game over the past 18 months has gone to a new level and credit to him because he’s genuinely one of the hardest working guys I know.
“The guys take the mick out of him a lot when they say ‘the last six balls to Shane could mean you’re there half an hour later’. The good ones normally do that - hit a lot of balls and want to get better.
“His work ethic is second to none and I’m delighted he’s reaping the rewards for that.”
CSNI duo Marc Ellison and Matthew Foster will be back in the squad for today’s clash and will add even more strength in depth to what is already a talented group.
Opening batsman Ellison has started the Knights season in fine touch, registering two half-cnturies, and Johnston praised the impact he has amongst the squad.
“The guys love him and he brings a real calmness and maturity to our side,” he said.
“He has had highs and lows and he speaks openly about that to our younger guys which they really appreciate.
“He makes people around him better and is the ultimate team man, so it’s great to have him back.”
Leinster have won the Inter-Provincial Cup for the past five seasons and have been a dominant force since 2013 in all formats.
A victory over the Lightning will give the travelling Knights a lot of confidence, and Johnston is just looking for his side to keep improving.
“They are still a really good side and they’re favourites for the game,” he added.
“It shows how far we have came that no-one was surprised in our changing room that we beat them.
“We have been building up to it and now it’s up to us to go again.
“We are really balanced in T20 and we fancy our match-ups there, and we actually thought a reduced game would hurt us a bit because they’ve a lot of power.
“When we started this three or four years ago we only had one or two Irish cricketers, but now we have six or seven guys in the mix. It was good to beat them, but we need to keep pushing and they certainly haven’t became a bad side over night.
“It was only a couple of weeks ago that we lost to what would be classed as a weak and young North West team.
“We have to keep trusting that our process is right and keep moving in the right direction.”