North Down will welcome back Paul Stirling for their Robinson Services Cup semi-final against Instonians at The Green on Saturday (3pm).
The Irish international signed for the Comber club ahead of the 2020 campaign and has made two appearances so far this season – one in the LVS T20 Cup semi-final against Waringstown and a league fixture against CSNI.
Stirling has been in England playing in the Vitality T20 Blast for Northants, where he started off by scoring 80* and picking up figures of 2/26 against Worcestershire.
It was thought he would miss the remainder of the NCU season but with Northants not in T20 action again until September 11, Stirling is able to return and take his place at the top of the order.
Captain Alistair Shields is understandably delighted to have him back but says they won’t be solely relying on their star player with so many others also in form.
“When we saw the Northants fixtures, we had eyed up that he might be available for this weekend with the way their fixtures fell,” he said.
“It’s great to have him back in and hopefully he can get a few runs on Saturday.
“We all know what he is capable of but at the same time, we have a lot of other guys in the squad who have contributed this year and plenty of guys that can step forward.
“If it doesn’t work out and he doesn’t get any and we need to rely on someone else, I think we have enough talent there to win matches.”
North Down are coming off an 11-run T20 Cup final defeat to CIYMS last Sunday but will be desperate to get back into another decider this Sunday, where the same opponents could await if they get past Waringstown at 11am tomorrow in the other semi-final.
Shields is looking to put it right this weekend and is aiming to finish the season on a high.
“That’s probably the one blessing we have that we can put it right this weekend and we get an opportunity to bounce right back.
“If we had finished last weekend it would have been a long winter thinking about what we could have done differently.
“It’s a good opportunity to bounce back and finish the season on a high.”
North Down will enter the semi-final encounter as favourites having already picked up two victories over Instonians this season, but the Shaws Bridge side is packed with young talent alongside the experience of Andrew White, Shane Getkate and Nikolai Smith.
Given the nature of knockout competition, Shields doesn’t believe a favourites tag holds any meaning heading into Saturday.
“It’s a cup game so that favourites tag doesn’t mean too much.
“We played them in a cup game last year and they ran through our top order.
“They have plenty of talent in their squad and young guys who on their day can take the game away from you with bat or ball so we have to be wary.
“What I’ll be saying to my guys is that looking around our changing room we have enough talent to beat anyone on our day, regardless of who is on the other side.
“We will worry about what we can do, how we can impact the game and execute our skills as best as we can.”