Drumaness Super Kings may have only been formed eight months ago but they are already into their first final.
Following the January merger between Drumaness and Belfast Super Kings, the club picked up four victories from six matches this season to book their spot in the Robinson Services Bowl decider against Bangor, which will be held at Upritchard Park on Saturday (1pm).
It has been the dream maiden campaign for captain Mohamed Ismail, who says there is already a family feel and real sense of community at the club.
“The entire team has gelled well within a very short span of time,” he said.
“Every member in the club feels like a family and are enjoying each other’s success.
“On and off the field all are very happy, which we strongly believe is vital for the success.
“It’s not only the players but Drumaness village community members who are making a huge difference with their priceless dedication to prepare the ground for matches & practice sessions.
“Most importantly, their support during match days at home and away is a big plus.”
They come up against a Bangor side that are unbeaten so far this season and made their way into the final after defeating Cooke Collegians, who also hadn’t lost a game up to that point, by 39 runs in the semi-final.
Ismail believes the experience that his side have been able to get under their belt could be pivotal.
“Bangor are playing good cricket this season and definitely are tough opponents to play against in the final,” he added.
“At the same time, we did really well too. The team has gained much needed experience of handling pressure situations and winning the crucial moments in the last two knock-out matches, which is very important for a shorter version of cricket.
“I am sure momentum is with us and hope it will play a bigger part in the final.”
It has been a great start to the Super Kings journey but this is very much just the beginning as far as they are concerned.
Neil Gelston will be returning for the 2021 campaign after spending five seasons with Armagh while the club are investing time and money as they look to improve facilities and create a youth section.
“Management is taking right decisions to move the club in the right direction,” said Ismail.
“We are investing time and money to improve the facility, practice bays, playing square, side screens and much more.
“We are confident that it will help the club move forward and attract youths to start playing cricket at the village.
“It’s not far away, soon we will have our youth teams.
“Mr Gelston coming back home is a huge advantage for the club. We are really excited and already started looking forward for the next season.”
With an unbeaten record up to this point, Bangor captain Adam McCusker is hoping his side can end the 2020 season on a high by winning the Robinson Services Bowl on Saturday.
The Upritchard Park side, who will host Drumaness Superkings in the decider (1pm), have won all six of their games this season, including a 39-run semi-final triumph over Cooke Collegians last weekend.
They’ve been in fine form, picking up victories by margins of 10 wickets, 70 runs and 129 runs in Twenty20 cricket, and McCusker has been delighted to see the effort his side have put in during the shortened campaign.
“I couldn’t be happier with the form,” he said.
“The guys have stepped up in every department.
“We prepare to go into each Saturday with the goal to work harder than the opposition in every area, and I think that has shown in our performances so far.”
It’s the batting unit that has been particularly impressive, scoring over 140 on three occasions while chasing against Holywood (91) and Donaghadee (65) for the loss of one wicket.
Bangor were relegated from Section One last season after finishing two points behind Downpatrick, who beat Donacloney Mill on the final day to preserve their spot in the second tier.
McCusker believes his men have reaped the rewards for the hard work they have put in to improve.
“Last season our batting let us down a few times and it’s the one area we have worked really hard to improve, so to score as we have has been really pleasing,” he added.
“The real positive for me is how much work the boys have put in, their enthusiasm to get back to cricket and work hard at it post lockdown.”
The league system should return to normal for next season and Bangor will have their sights set on immediate promotion back to Section One.
First though, their attention is on Saturday’s final and McCusker says there is a positive energy around the club currently.
“The energy around the whole club at the minute is really special,” he said.
“It just feels like we are moving in the right direction and it has been a great momentum builder going into next year, where we fully expect to be challenging for promotion.
“We are really looking forward to Saturday to what would be a perfect end to an already successful season.”
North Down, Cregagh and Waringstown Women were all big winners at the weekend as all three picked up their respective league titles.
We cover all of that and more in the final ‘five thoughts from the weekend’.
1 – North Down end their wait for silverware
North Down were in ruthless form over the weekend as they beat Instonians and Waringstown to win the Robinson Services Cup title, which was their first competition victory since a T20 Cup triumph back in 2013.
For a club like North Down that totally dominated the local club scene between 2000-2010, where they won seven Challenge Cup’s and seven Premier League crowns, that is a very long time but this team could be one that goes on to challenge on a consistent basis over the coming seasons.
They have put together a squad that covers all bases and literally every player is able to contribute at a high level, whether that’s the top order of Paul Stirling, Ruhan Pretorius and Alistair Shields, the pace of Craig Young, leg-spin of Carl Robinson who came into his own this season or Jamie Magowan, who is one of the best wicketkeepers in the league, as he proved on Sunday.
That’s without mentioning the likes of Peter Eakin, Peter Davison, Aditya Adey, Stuart Nelson and Ryan Haire, with everyone coming together to create a squad that could challenge on all fronts from 2021 onwards.
Having the potential is one thing but it’s something different turning that into trophies like CIYMS and Waringstown have done in recent times, but it’s going to be exciting watching them all battle it out.
2 – Rollercoaster semi-final
The first semi-final between Waringstown and CIYMS was always going to be close but the drama that this encounter brought was on another level.
Waringstown were absolutely cruising at 92-2 chasing 125 for a place in the final before a massive collapse of 22-7 in just under eight overs meant that CIYMS were favourites at one point to progress.
Number 11 batsman Matthew Purse stood strong for five deliveries while captain Lee Nelson took the responsibility of dragging his side over the line, taking eight of the required nine runs to win in the final over as the Villagers progressed on fewer wickets lost with the scores tied.
It follows the trend of previous meetings between the pair with last year’s T20 Cup decided by one run and Irish Senior Cup semi-final in the last over, which is testament to just how good and competitive both teams are.
3 – Cregagh crowned Trophy champions on dramatic final day
The drama wasn’t just limited to the Robinson Services Cup as Cregagh were able to capitalise on Derriaghy’s final ball four-wicket defeat to Cliftonville Academy at Shaws Bridge to go from third to Trophy champions after beating Muckamore by six runs.
Derriaghy knew four points would be enough to win the league but an inspired performance from Matthew McCord (44 and 3-10) helped Cliftonville to victory and that threw it over to Moylena, where the winners of a second vs third showdown between Muckamore and Cregagh would be crowned champions.
It was Cregagh that prevailed, with Jay Hunter (53) leading the way before three wickets from Craig Irvine meant Muckamore fell six runs short of their D/L target.
That secured the league and cup double for a very exciting Cregagh side who, depending on winter transfer movement, will likely be favourites to win the very competitive and unpredictable Section One next season.
4 – Domination for Waringstown Women
Waringstown women were also at the double as they followed their Challenge Cup success up by winning the league after an eight-wicket triumph over Muckamore on Sunday.
It has been quite the season and improvement for Waringstown, who were put out in the first round in 2019 and also lost four of their eight league games, so massive credit must go to the whole squad for putting in the work required to go unbeaten during this campaign.
Captain Charlotte Lyons has led from the front, putting in another big contribution of 38* at the weekend to help guide her side to the title.
With six players who were selected for a recent NCU Women series against Jersey in their side, they possess the talent to go again next season and try to back up their success of 2020.
5 – And so that’s the end of a bizarre, brilliant season
The curtain has been drawn on the Robinson Services Cup and Trophy seasons with the only top-flight side still in action being CIYMS, who will travel to Bready on Saturday for an All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup semi-final against Donemana.
It has been a different season with T20 competitions, social distancing, elbow bumps and very little of what we have been used to in more normal times, but credit must go to everyone involved for getting the season on after it looked for quite a while earlier this year that nothing would be possible.
I’ve really enjoyed the format and was a huge fan of the two semi-finals on one day, so I think there could be some positive innovation that comes out of this season, which will potentially have more of an impact down the leagues rather at the top of the pyramid in terms of overs etc.
Cricket’s return helped to bring a bit of normality back to a lot of people this summer and it was yet another enjoyable season.
The best was certainly saved for last as the final Robinson Services and D&P Cricket Player of the Week award of the 2020 season goes to North Down’s Ruhan Pretorius.
Pretorius was in frightening form on Saturday against Instonians, blasting 120* from 56 balls (seven fours, nine sixes) to help his side progress to the Robinson Services Cup final, where they beat Waringstown by seven wickets to lift the title.
The 29-year-old also scored 47 from 38 deliveries in the decider, putting on a second-wicket partnership of 66 with captain Alistair Shields.
As a reward for his weekend performance, Pretorius earns a £50 voucher for equipment at D&P Cricket.
Jay Hunter scored 53 to help Cregagh win the Robinson Services Trophy title with a six-run victory over Muckamore on Saturday.
Cliftonville Academy all-rounder Matthew McCord picked up figures of 3-10 before hitting 44 as they beat Derriaghy by four wickets off the final ball.
Waringstown fast bowler James Mitchell took four wickets as his side progressed past CIYMS in the Robinson Services Cup semi-final.
Lee Nelson also picked up four wickets, including a hat-trick, in the final over of the same game before playing what turned out to be a crucial innings as the Villagers got past CIYMS on fewer wickets lost.
There was also four wicket hauls for North Down’s Paul Stirling (4-18), Aaron McKinley (Muckamore, 4-37) and Downpatrick captain Ross Roultwood (4-13).
Instonians all-rounder James Hunter could make his Inter-Provincial debut on Tuesday after being named in the Northern Knights 13-man squad for their trip to Munster Reds.
The 17-year-old impressed in the intra-squad games ahead of the Inter-Pro season, scoring a half-century in the first match and also helped Instonians reach the Robinson Services Cup semi-finals at the weekend, where they lost out to eventual champions North Down.
Bowling left-arm pace and batting in the middle order, Hunter will bring variation to the Knights squad as they take on the Reds at The Mardyke (1:30pm).
After defeat to Leinster Lightning last Thursday, the Knights lost their Twenty20 Trophy crown and a second-placed finish is secured whatever the result against Munster.
They start their 50-over campaign on Thursday at Shaws Bridge against the North West Warriors (10:15am).
Squad: Gary Wilson (Capt), Mark Adair, Ross Adair, David Delany, Shane Getkate, James McCollum, Jacob Mulder, Ruhan Pretorius, Harry Tector, CJ van der Walt. James Hunter, Josh Manley.
North Down captain Alistair Shields is hoping Sunday’s Robinson Services Cup seven-wicket final victory over Waringstown is just the beginning of the silverware haul for his side.
In what is their first competition victory since 2013, the Comber outfit put in a dominant performance, limiting their opponents to 95-9 in 20 overs before successfully chasing the total down with 18 balls to spare.
Paul Stirling (4-18), returning from Northants duty to play in Saturday’s semi-final win over Instonians and then the decider, set the tone by picking up four quick wickets to leave Waringstown sitting on 39-5 after nine overs.
It was a position that they were never able to recover from as Ryan Haire (3-20) stopped Waringstown’s chances of posting any sort of defendable score when he bowled Greg Thompson (19) before it was over to Ruhan Pretorius (47) who broke the back of their run chase.
Pretorius, who scored 120* from 56 balls in the semi-final, put on a second-wicket partnership of 66 with Shields (25*) after Stirling (2) was caught in the first over.
Shields rounded the game off in style by hitting his third four and he was delighted with not just the final performance but the season as a whole.
“We are delighted to finally get over the line in one of these finals,” he said.
“Our bowlers really set that up. We saw how the wicket played yesterday and we adapted really well.
“The guys put us in a great position there and we would have been kicking ourselves if we didn’t get over the line but we are really pleased.
“We just didn’t get over the line last week (T20 Cup final) but I felt we played good enough cricket to win something this year so we are delighted with that.”
Pretorius will qualify to play for Ireland at the end of 2021 after deciding to permanently reside in Northern Ireland, and if he can continue to perform at the level he did this weekend, an international debut seems almost certain.
He has been one of the standout players in the NCU over the past five years and despite struggling with his strike rate at certain points in the 2020 season, he broke the shackles this weekend and took all the pressure off their run chase.
“It was a good weekend for him to come to the party,” added Shields.
“He played beautifully yesterday and was so destructive and then today he set it up and made it easy for the guys coming in.”
North Down dominated the local club scene between 2000-2010, winning seven Challenge Cup’s and seven league titles, but the following 10 years was a quieter period.
They’ve kicked this decade off by winning a trophy and with the likes of Pretorius, Stirling and Craig Young in their ranks, it could be the start of something special at The Green.
“I’m looking at this team and I’m hoping we can keep it together,” said Shields.
“The guys have really bought in to everything we are trying to do and the numbers and effort at training is way up on previous years.
“Fingers crossed this is the start of something and it’s great to get over the line in one of these tight finals.
“Hopefully we can carry that momentum into next year.”
Waringstown and North Down will meet in the Robinson Services Cup final on Sunday (2pm) after they both won their semi-final encounters against CIYMS and Instonians respectively on Saturday at The Green.
In the morning clash, Waringstown progressed on fewer wickets lost after the scores were tied on 124 following the 20 overs with CIYMS all out off the final ball of their innings while Waringstown lost nine wickets.
Nigel Jones (51) top-scored for the second time in as many games after his 42* in their LVS T20 Cup victory at the same venue last Sunday while James Mitchell (4-17) and Lee Nelson (4-33) were the standouts for Waringstown with the ball.
The latter picked up all of his wickets in the final over, which turned out to be crucial.
James Hall (47) got Waringstown’s chase off to a flying start and they had reached 90-2 inside 10 overs and looked like they would cruise to victory.
That was before they lost seven wickets for 22 runs in a collapse that almost cost them a spot in the decider but Nelson was the one that secured progression, scoring eight of the required nine to win before handing it over to number 11 batsman Matthew Purse, who blocked out three deliveries from Mark Adair.
It was the Ruhan Pretorius show in the second game as he smashed 120* from 56 balls to help North Down reach 179/3 in their 20 overs.
The 29-year-old blasted nine sixes and seven fours, putting on a 92-run fourth-wicket partnership with Ryan Haire (28*).
That total was always likely to be beyond Instonians but Marcus Poskitt (46) impressed before he was bowled by Peter Eakin as the Shaws Bridge side fell 40 runs short of their D/L target.
Pretorius has struggled with his strike rate at times this season but that will be a forgotten memory now after the destructive innings, making Instonians pay after he was dropped on 25.
“I got a bit lucky but in T20 cricket you need a bit of luck,” he reflected.
“I was dropped early on but I tried to go in with a positive attitude today. Stirlo and I got off to a good start so I just tried to keep positive throughout my innings.
“I’ve thought with how I batted in the last innings with a strike rate of 80 I should just free myself up and back my skills today. I wanted to go and just express myself.
“I’ve been hitting them as good as anything lately. You need a bit of luck in T20 cricket and today was my day. I’m grateful for that and now it’s on to tomorrow.”
It will be a third meeting between North Down and Waringstown this season with the previous two shared one apiece after Waringstown picked up a Robinson Services Cup victory before North Down beat the Villagers in the LVS T20 Cup semi-finals.
Pretorius believes the Comber side will need to be somewhere near their best again if they want to lift the trophy tomorrow in front of home support.
“It’s another North Down vs Waringstown clash.
“They are a very good side so we need to be on the ball again tomorrow.”
Waringstown captain Lee Nelson believes his side still haven’t hit peak form this season but is hoping they can do just that in their Robinson Services Cup semi-final against CIYMS at The Green on Saturday (11am).
The Villagers qualified for the play-offs after finishing the league season in fourth, winning three and losing two of the matches that were contested on the pitch (two void games also).
That means they will take on CIYMS who finished at the top on net run-rate while hosts North Down will face Instonians before the two winners return to the Comber venue on Sunday for a final (2pm).
Waringstown are no strangers to the big occasion, reaching the Irish Senior Cup final for the past five seasons, winning three, and during that period have also picked up two Premier League’s, one Challenge Cup, one All-Ireland Twenty20 Cup and three NCU Twenty20 Cup’s.
That sort of dominance has only recently been challenged by Saturday’s opponents, who have won five of the last six competitions they have been involved in, including last weekend’s LVS T20 Cup, but Nelson is hoping that big game experience will help them in their quest for yet more silverware.
“Hopefully our experience of playing in these games will stand us in good stead,” he said.
“We have done OK this year but we probably haven’t played as well as we could have done.
“We have played to 70-80% of our capabilities if I’m being honest so I’m just hoping the boys will go out and express themselves on Saturday morning and see what we can do.”
Waringstown are the team that come into this game with the least match practice having missed their last two league fixtures due to bad weather while Instonians beat Carrickfergus last weekend and North Down were CI’s opponents in the Twenty20 final.
Their last game was an 18-run defeat to CIYMS at Belmont on August 15 and Nelson admits the weather and format has brought certain challenges with it.
“This is where the difficulty has been.
“It also seems to have rained every Tuesday and Thursday night at practice for the last few weeks too.
“The difficulty with having a season full of T20’s is a lot of guys don’t get a lot of batting or bowling bar a select few, so in pressure situations in big games there will be that element of rustiness from people that haven’t either batted or bowled much.”
One player that is very much in form is batsman James McCollum, who scored 79* for the Northern Knights against the North West Warriors on Tuesday at The Green.
The 25-year-old also started his innings against Leinster Lightning brightly in Dublin before he was caught for 17 but both matches showed just how much McCollum has improved and innovated in 20-over cricket.
A man for the big games, McCollum will play a crucial role alongside the likes of Adam Dennison, James Hall and Greg Thompson, who is one of the finest players in the NCU in this format, and Nelson believes the Irish international will be key to anything they achieve.
“He’s a class player.
“People sometimes think he can’t play in other formats but he has shown at the highest level In this country that he can.
“If we are going to win trophies and you look back at the big games, he has always had a say in them. We will be relying on a big performance from him.”
This is just the latest in a series of these two teams meeting in the latter stages of competitions and they tend to produce classics, such as CI’s one-run T20 Cup victory last season and Waringstown’s final over win to secure a place in the Irish Senior Cup.
In 2018, Waringstown won by one wicket in the Gallagher Challenge Cup semi-finals and Nelson is expecting another close game this time round.
“They’ve always been close.
“The two teams have a lot of respect for each other because we have played against each other in a lot of semi-finals.
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.”