Comber is the venue on Sunday for the final of the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup between Instonians and Waringstown (11am start). This will be the 29th final, and is the first all NCU affair since Downpatrick beat NICC back in 1991.
Waringstown have the greater pedigree in the competition, having won it twice, in 1983 and 1992. Despite the recent dearth of NCU sides reaching the final - only Ballymena and Cliftonville have even reached the final in the past 16 years - NCU sides still lead the way in terms of victories, given their almost total domination in the early years. To date the tally stands at NCU 11 wins, LCU 9 wins, NW 8 wins.
For Instonians, it will be the first time they have reached the final, and their skipper Eugene Moleon is relishing the occasion: "It's fair to say we haven't a great track record in the competition. That's been down to a number of factors, where at times we haven't been in a position to field our strongest side. That for me has been the crucial difference this year - the draw has been kind to us, and we have only been away once, at Limavady."
Instonians strength is their batting, with a top four which is the envy of many in the country. Moleon outlined their importance: " We've had a settled top four now for a number of years, and they all know each others game so well. John Stevenson and Rory McCann have given us an excellent platform - I've been trying to count up just how many significant partnerships they've put together. James Shannon has been a revelation, and has added an extra dimension to his play this year. Some of his strokeplay is just a joy to watch. Then of course there's Andrew White at number four with all his experience, and when you put all those ingredients together, it's a potent mix, as everyone would have seen by our run chase against Phoenix in the semi-final. We've guys in the middle and lower order who can all chip in - Ben Wylie has scored important runs as well as myself."
On the bowling front. Moleon is happy with the armoury at his disposal: "Neil Hamilton has done really well for us, and along with myself has opened the bowling. We'd hoped to have a bowling professional this year, but it fell through. Rory Sheard has bowled well for us at the death, while Andy White and Ben Wylie ensure we're well covered in the spin department. Wylie's a young left -arm spinner who featured in the Ireland Development squad recently. They're a rare breed and we're lucky to have him in our ranks. I've plenty of bowling options no matter what the pitch and conditions."
How did Moleon feel about facing Waringstown in the final - would he have preferred an opponent from another Union? To be honest, I'm just glad we're in the final. It was one of our goals at the start of the season, and we've achieved it. We've won the Ulster Cup and it would be a marvellous season for us if we were to bring home the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup. It's the one everyone targets above the rest. It's sure to be a wonderful occasion, and it's a great honour for the NCU to have two clubs in the final."
His Waringstown counterpart Kyle McCallan has also lifted a trophy this season - the Ulster Bank Challenge Cup - and is keen to get his hands on another piece of silverware: " It's been a long time since Waringstown has been in the final, and we were all keen at the club to rectify that having missed a golden opportunity last year, when we lost to Merrion in the semi-final. It's been a fantastic achievement for us to reach the final, especially since our professional left, and limited availability at times."
The departure of Pienaar mid-way through the season has left a huge void in their ranks, but McCallan felt his team had coped magnificently: "Obviously it would hurt any side to lose someone of the quality of Obus, but the youngsters who have come in have responded superbly to the challenge. We all learned so much from Obus, and his presence brought a real buzz to the club. To go and win at Brigade in the semi-final was a magnificent result, and gives the side real confidence. We've played Instonians a lot this year and have a good track record against them. There's no doubt they're a quality side and we respect them, but we've got belief in our own ability, and will be hopeful of a win on Sunday."
Much has been written about the pitch at Comber, which traditionally is one of the flattest tracks in the country, with not much encouragement for spinners. Given the composition of the Waringstown attack, would McCallan have favoured an alternative venue? "We played there last Sunday against North Down and didn't have the best of days. That said, we've uncovered a guy called Kris Lyness who started the season on our thirds, and he's got serious, genuine, pace, and could well prove a handful. We've got bowlers with the ability to control teams through accurate line and length, and backed up by good fielding and thoughtful positions. I've got a few plans in mind to squeeze their batsmen, and I'm sure the bowlers will acquit themselves well. It doesn't have to be a 'bunsen-burner' for our bowlers to perform! We'll be trying to get a couple of early break-throughs and put their middle order under pressure."
Which players will the skipper be looking for big performances on Sunday? "Lee Nelson has had an outstanding season for us, while James Hall has also been consistent. Johnny Bushe has come good as the season has progressed, and his keeping is always first class. We've a great blend of youth and experience, with Andrew Cousins, Simon Harrison and Keith Morrison, who has been a stalwart of the side, as well as Gary Kidd, and Ireland Under 19 player Josh Hall. The real strength of our side since Obus left has been the fact that we haven't relied on one or two individuals. Everyone has chipped in and there's a real sense of camaraderie and team spirit about The Lawn."
In recent weeks McCallan has taken a slot in the middle order, despite a lot of success opening the batting. Was he considering a switch back given the batting paradise at North Down? "I scored a century in the Challenge Cup against Instonians opening the batting, and the batting order is something we're giving a bit of thought to. My move to the middle order has worked quite well for the team though, and the guys at the top have all chipped in at various times, so I don't think we'll tinker too much with the order."
Rory McCann, John Stevenson, James Shannon, Andrew White, Eugene Moleon, Ben Wylie, Jordan Morrow, Neil Hamilton, Robbie Kirk, Rory Sheard, Akshay Dhareula , Richard McCurry, Sam Shannon.
James Hall, Simon Harrison, Andrew Cousins, Lee Nelson, Kyle McCallan, Johnny Bushe, Josh Hall, David Dawson, Keith Morrison, Gary Kidd, Kris Lyness, Adam Dennison, Aaron Kennedy.
The admission charges on Sunday are £8 for adults, £6 for OAP's, and under 16's are free provided they are accompanied by an adult.