Talisman Khan set to return for final clash
Waringstown professional Shaheen Khan is expected to play a full part in today's Irish Senior Cup final against The Hills in Bready (11.30am) after sitting out the Villagers' last three games
The South African picked up an injury in the All-Ireland Twenty20 semi-final at The Lawn two weeks ago and it is probably no coincidence that Waringstown went on to lose the final - their first defeat in 14 matches - and then suffered a first Premier League defeat in three months last Sunday against CIYMS.
Shaheen was hitting peak form when he strained a side muscle against Bready and since then, as skipper Greg Thompson admits, the focus was on September 2.
"We have rested Shaheen since T20 finals day and although we won one and lost one last weekend, we are still top of the league with a game to play. We are hopeful Shaheen will play a full part but if not, someone will have to score his runs and bowl his overs," said Thompson who, like the majority of his team-mates, is playing in his third successive Irish Cup showpiece.
"The guys have been there and done that and not one of our guys is stepping into their first senior final. So it will be a case of settling into the game and executing our skills.
"We'll be turning up in shirt and ties but otherwise will try to treat it as just another game."
The players know they let themselves down last year, with few playing to their best - not one batsman reached 50 - as Merrion completed a comfortable 56 runs victory.
Having said that, Thompson was the only batsman to score a half-century in the 2015 final, also against Merrion, but his 78, along with significant support from Lee Nelson and stand-in professional JP de Viilliers, who also took four wickets, ensured a 107 runs win and it is that memory - with eight of the same team - which will be recalled today.
In Adam Dennison, James Hall and James McCollum, Waringstown have a top three they wouldn't swap for anyone and after the power-hitting of Shaheen and Thompson, Marcus McClean and veteran Kyle McCallan, who played in his first Irish Cup final 16 years ago, can finish the innings with quick runs.
The bowling, if anything, is even stronger and Shaheen, former Ireland international Phil Eaglestone and James Mitchell, who has earned his first call-up to the Northern Knights squad next week, will aim to get among the wickets early before Thompson can call on his spin triumvirate of Gary Kidd, McCallan and Nelson - and he still has the option of bowling himself.
But as Thompson appreciates, The Hills also have a very balanced, settled team, with match-winners throughout
"The Hills are strong one to 11, have played well throughout the year (they can still win the league if they beat Clontarf in their last match and leaders Leinster fail to win) and have some very familiar names," adds Thompson.
"Nazeer Shoukat, Gary Kidd and myself made our Ireland debuts in the same game in 2004, in fact I roomed with Naz, who even then was two years younger than my dad!
"I expect him to bowl his 10 overs through, and their pro (Australian Ryan Cartwright) does the business, they're a couple of wily seamers, and then they have Albert van der Merwe and Yaqoob Ali to bowl spin. They know their strengths and I'm looking forward to renewing friendships and doing battle with them again."
Thompson couldn't bring himself to mention Max Sorensen who can change the course, or even win, a match in just 15 overs and before he gets the middle Waringstown have to get past Cormac McLoughlin-Gavin, who has two Irish Cup winners medals, Under-19 international Mark Donegan and Sean Terry who has played five ODIs.
And if Waringstown do not make early inroads, as Instonians found to their cost in the semi-final when 18-4 was turned into a final total of 244-6, van der Merwe, Sorensen and Cartwright can beat any bowler into submission. It promises to be an absorbing contest, too close to call.
Waringstown: G Thompson (capt), A Dennison, J Hall, J McCollum, L Nelson, Shaheen Khan, K McCallan, M McClean, G Kidd, J Mitchell, P Eaglestone.
The Hills: M Sorensen (capt), C McLoughlin-Gavin, M Donegan, S Terry, Hamid Shah, A van der Merwe, T Murphy, R Cartwright, Yaqoob Ali, L Clinton, N Shoukat.